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Is This the End of Gwajima’s Campaign Against COVID-19 Vaccines?

 Minister of Health says she’s tired of evangelical pastor’s unfounded claims over COVID-19 vaccines. He either proves them or faces an arrest.

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Dar es Salaam. Minister of Health Dr Dorothy Gwajima on Tuesday ordered televangelist and Kawe lawmaker (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM) Josephat Gwajima to either prove his claims that government officials have been bribed so that they can allow the importation of COVID-19 vaccines in Tanzania or otherwise faces an arrest.

During a function in the village of Kyatunge in the Mara district of Butiama Dr Gwajima said as an official spokesperson of Tanzania’s health sector she is “tired” of seeing the evangelical pastor coming up with one claim after another about COVID-19 vaccines and the pandemic in general without supporting any of them with evidence something she said confuses the public more than it helps it.

As the founder and Archbishop of Glory of Christ Tanzania Church (GCTC), popularly known as ‘Ufufuo na Uzima,’ Gwajima the pastor has probably been the number one anti-vaxxer in Tanzania, using both his religious and political platforms to warn people against getting the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it “dangerous.”

During one of his prayer sessions, for example, Mr Gwajima said that no one is sure that the vaccines provided in the United Kingdom are the same as the ones that Tanzanians are being told to prepare to take. He added: “Did [we] do a chemical analysis to understand the chemical content of [the particular] vaccine? I want to see any medical doctor who would sensitize [people to take the vaccine.] I’ll dine with them at the same table. They will die.”

Gwajima is no stranger to spreading misinformation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. In May this year, speaking in the parliament, he doubted the vaccine’s efficiency citing the speed with which it was developed. In February, also speaking in the parliament, Mr Gwajima called a decision against vaccination and against social distancing “an appropriate decision.”

“Gwajima is my brother, he definitely is my brother-in-law, but I’m a minister and I have taken an oath to serve my country, not my brother-in-law,” Dr Gwajima said during the function. “[He] has transformed his church into an alternative to the ministry of health. He has become the chief spokesperson of [Tanzania’s] health sector. He claims to be protecting Tanzanians. I’m the spokesperson of health-related issues in [Tanzania], and I’m tired of being confused. I’m directing [security organs] to arrest [Mr Gwajima] from wherever he is so that he can be interrogated over these claims and necessary steps be taken.”

Mr Gwajima’s controversial takes on coronavirus vaccines have in the past invited sharp criticisms from experts, his own party CCM, lawmakers and other religious leaders. CCM Secretary of Ideology and Publicity Mr Shaka Hamdu Shaka, for example, said on July 26, 2021, that the party “was closely following up” the trend of some of its leaders “who have been spreading misinformation about covid vaccines,” promising strict disciplinary measures against them.

Former cabinet minister and Bumbuli MP (CCM) Mr January Makamba has called out Mr Gwajima’s behaviour, calling it “unacceptable” in a Twitter post. “It is dangerous to mislead people who trust us [by commenting on things] that we are not experts of,” said Mr Makamba then. “A discussion on the vaccine’s safety is correct but [alleging] that the government has brought the vaccines to hurt people is not correct.”

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Professor Abel Makubi said over the weekend that since the government started rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination program on August 3, 2021, a total of 207, 391 people from the targeted groups, which include people with underlying health conditions, healthcare workers and the elderly, have been vaccinated. Among those vaccinated, a total of 121, 002, which is an equivalent of 58.3 per cent, are men while 86,389 (41.7 per cent) are women. 

Tanzania plans to inoculate at least 35 million people or 60 per cent of the population. The U.S. government had donated the vaccines to Tanzania through the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX initiative, the global vaccine-sharing facility that the East African nation requested to join in mid-June this year.

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