Tanzanian experts say COVID-19 vaccines safe, recommend joining COVAX

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FILE PHOTO: Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan arrives to address a joint Parliament session of Kenyan Members of Parliament and Senators in Nairobi

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Experts appointed by Tanzania's new president have declared COVID-19 vaccines to be effective and recommended joining the COVAX facility that shares the inoculations, in the latest sign suggesting official scepticism about the pandemic is waning.

The recommendations by a coronavirus committee formed in April by President Samia Suluhu Hassan were given by the chair of the group at a press conference at State House in Dar es Salaam on Monday.

In its other recommendations, the experts proposed the government publish accurate statistics on the disease and urged that any alternative medicines pass scientific standards.

It was not immediately clear what the president would do with the recommendations. Hassan spoke at a separate public event later on Monday and did not mention COVID-19.

A government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

The recommendations are the latest sign of the government's increasingly proactive approach to tackling the disease following the death in March of President John Magufuli, who downplayed the disease.

"The government should do mass mobilisation, preparation to receive vaccines, storage, transportation and people should be free to be vaccinated or not," committee chair Said Aboud said in a televised speech.

Joining the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility enables poorer countries like Tanzania to secure doses for its citizens. All but a handful of developing countries have signed up to the facility amid the global pandemic

Frontline workers, people over 50, people with comorbidities, security workers, and travelers going abroad should get their shot first, Aboud said.

In January, Magufuli had warned citizens against COVID-19 vaccines and urged them to instead fight the virus using at-home remedies like steam inhalation.

His successor Hassan has taken a different approach; encouraging citizens to wear face masks, instituting new restrictions on international travel, and forming the COVID-19-focused committee.

Under Magufuli's tenure, Tanzania also stopped reporting coronavirus data in May 2020.

"The government should provide accurate statistics on COVID-19 to the public and WHO for the public to get accurate information from authorities and respect agreements and regulations that the country has ratified," Aboud said.

The committee also recommended that the finance ministry perform an assessment to measure the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and formulate plans to boost growth.

(This story has been refiled to fix typo in headline)

(Reporting by Nairobi Newsroom; Writing by Ayenat Mersie; Editing by William Maclean)