People close to Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni have reportedly received jabs of China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine months ahead of health workers and other vulnerable groups in the country.
The Wall Street Journal, an American newspaper, reported on Thursday last week that “Members of President Yoweri Museveni’s inner circle were offered vaccines from China state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm.”
The newspaper reported that the secret shots, masterminded by the Chinese government and meant to promote their vaccines, have also been reported in Peru and the Philippines.
It said in Peru, nearly 500 politically-connected people, including former president Martin Vizcarra, were secretly given the vaccine, which was undergoing clinical trial.
Don Wanyama, the senior press secretary to President Museveni, denied the allegation, saying the country is still waiting for doses of the vaccine and that when it comes, frontline workers will be prioritised.
“What do they mean by inner circle? It is not true, from the best of my knowledge, people in Uganda have not received the vaccine, at least not yet,” Mr Wanyama told the Daily Monitor on Tuesday.
He added: “The President has made it clear that we expect doses of the vaccine soon and when it does, the criteria of who gets immunised first is known, starting with frontline workers, the more vulnerable, and then the rest. There is no category called inner circle.”
Asked about the alleged action of Mr Museveni’s inner circle receiving Covid-19 vaccine secretly, Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Health, said “there is no such a thing.”
The Daily Monitor said attempts to reach the Chinese Embassy in Uganda for comments were futile by press time.
In December, the Ugandan government cleared the Chinese Community of Liao Shen Industrial Park in Kapeeka, Nakaseke District, to import 4,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine into the country for their own use.
Dr Ruth Jane Aceng, the country’s Health minister, told the Daily Monitor then that the vaccine was still under research and it was strictly for the Chinese nationals.
“They wanted it for themselves, we said strictly limit it to yourselves, we do not want it to spread in the population. Uganda imports vaccines that are World Health Organisation prescribed, assessed for safety…, that is the vaccine we bring for the population and we have applied for it through Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation,” Dr Aceng said.
Asked how government would prevent the masses from accessing the said vaccine, Dr Aceng said the vaccine will come in small quantities and will be delivered straight to the Chinese embassy.
Mr Zhang Hao, the managing director of Liao Shen Industrial Park, had said the vaccine was not for clinical trials but for the Chinese business community to keep the investors safe.
“The vaccine is to be administered to strictly Chinese nationals in the Liao Shen Industrial Park upon seeking consent and whoever has registered to take the vaccine will cater for their own costs and risks. This will not affect the Ugandan government in anyway,” Mr Hao said.
Last week, Dr Aceng said the country is expecting to receive donations and directly purchase vaccines from China.
The Ministry hopes to receive donations of the vaccine from Covax facility by March.
The Ugandan Parliament has also approved a down payment of Ush18.5 billion (about $5 million or Ksh553m) for AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute of India.