•More than 70 per cent of Kenyans already have Covid-19 antibodies, mostly through natural infection, according to the Ministry of Health.
•Prof Jaoko said the current low vaccination rates in Kenya are driven by vaccine hesitancy.
The World Health Organization has said it expects to declare the end of Covid-19 pandemic this year.
WHO boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this is because the virus is becoming more like seasonal flu.
“I am confident that this year we will be able to say that Covid-19 is over as a public health emergency of international concern,” Dr Tedros said at a press conference that was streamed online on Friday.
The announcement comes exactly three years after the WHO declared the pandemic and a month after the Kenyan government stopped making its Covid-19 data public.
At the last count, the Kenyan deaths stood at about 5,000 with no daily deaths reported for more than two months.
Like the declaration of the emergency, the decision to end this status would ultimately be made by Dr Tedros after discussion with experts.
Another key consideration will be population immunity, meaning the proportion of people who have some antibodies to the virus either from immunisation, infection or both.
More than 70 per cent of Kenyans already have Covid-19 antibodies, mostly through natural infection, according to the Ministry of Health.
Dr Tedros said the Covid-19 virus, just like the seasonal flu, will continue to kill, but may not disrupt society.
"A threat to health, a virus that will continue to kill. But a virus that is not disrupting our society or disrupting our hospital systems, and I believe that will come," Dr Tedros said.
Director of the KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research at the University of Nairobi, Prof Walter Jaoko, advised Kenyans to continue taking Covid-19 vaccines because the virus remains a threat.
Last year, the Ministry of Health said Kenyans had reached herd immunity through natural infection.
However, Prof Jaoko said it is still not clear how long this immunity lasts.
“We don't know how long this protection lasts, because it's a novel disease. So we need to follow people for a long period of time to know how long this immunity lasts,” he said.
“Herd immunity against Covid-19 disease should be achieved by protecting people through vaccination, not by exposure to the virus.”
Prof Jaoko said it is still necessary for Kenyans to take the vaccines because of the risks associated with natural infections.
“In natural infection, there is a risk of serious disease and even death, whereas using vaccination prevents you from getting serious disease, and even from dying,” he said.
Prof Jaoko said the current low vaccination rates in Kenya are driven by vaccine hesitancy.
Globally, about 64 per cent of the world is fully vaccinated, mostly in rich countries.
However, the vaccination rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are low with some countries having just 10 per cent of the population vaccinated.
In Kenya, only 26.5 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.
Prof Jaoko said such a low rate is risky because most of the population remains vulnerable should a new variant emerge.
The Omicron variant currently accounts for over 98 per cent of the publicly available sequences since February 2022, WHO said.
In January, acting director general for Health Patrick Amoth and several other researchers said Kenya achieved herd immunity in early 2022 mainly through natural infections because few people are fully vaccinated against the disease.
They announced this through a paper in the 'Vaccines' journal, titled “Near-Complete SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence aAmong Rural and Urban Kenyans despite Significant Vaccine Hesitancy and Refusal.”
“Despite vaccine inequity, hesitancy and refusal, herd immunity had been achieved in Kenya and likely other African countries by early 2022, with natural infections likely contributing to most of this immunity,” they said.
But this does not mean people should stop taking Covid-19 vaccines, they said.
“Vaccine campaigns should be sustained due to the need for repeat boosters associated with the waning of SARS-CoV-2 immunity and emergence of immune-evading virus variants,” they said.
They tested 1,565 participants for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Nairobi and Kakamega counties in January and February 2022.
They found that nearly everyone in Nairobi had Covid-19 antibodies.
This was despite low levels (less than 55 per cent) of vaccine uptake nationally and high levels (16–20 per cent) of vaccine refusal among the two populations.
(Edited by V. Graham)