• Doses to arrive early next year, to cover 20 per cent of Kenya's population
•The announcement means Kenya has applied for the largest number of doses in East Africa.
Kenya has ordered 24 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, enough to cover 20 per cent of the country’s population, the Star has learnt.
The Ministry of Health submitted its request to the global vaccine alliance Gavi last week.
The doses will cost Kenya a total of Sh10 billion, the ministry confirmed.
This is approximately the cost also given by Gavi, which says each dose will cost about $3 (about Sh320).
The amount is already heavily discounted by Gavi through donations from a number of developed countries, the World Bank, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.
“The first to be vaccinated will be frontline workers, then the vulnerable and the elderly,” acting director-general of Health Patrick Amoth told the Star.
He said Kenya did not dictate which vaccine to receive because Gavi has signed agreements with manufacturers of about nine vaccine candidates.
“The Oxford University-Astrazeneca candidate will be ideal for Kenya because it fits within our cold chain supply system. It can be stored in 2-8 degrees and we have refrigerators for that,” Amoth said. "It is also being tested in the country in Kilifi."
Pfizer- BioNTech’s, Moderna’s and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines have all reported efficacy of more than 90 per cent.
However, the first two require ultra-cold storage not widely available in Kenya.
The Pfizer candidate is also not among the contracted vaccines that will be supplied to poor countries through Gavi.
Kenya expects to receive a vaccine early next year, but Amoth did not specify the timeframe.
He said Kenya will grant emergency use approval to the appropriate candidate immediately that vaccine gets such approvals in Europe and the US.
“Once they get the approval from the European Medicines Agency and in the UK, then we will also consider granting such authorisation in Kenya,” he said.
The announcement means Kenya has applied for the largest number of doses in East Africa.
Last week on Thursday, Uganda’s Ministry of Health said it ordered nine million doses to cover 20 per cent of the country’s population of 43 million people.
“Plans are underway to secure additional doses of the vaccine to cover more people,” the Ugandan Health ministry said in a statement.
Uganda said it specifically applied for the Oxford University-Astrazeneca vaccine because it has no capacity to store other vaccines that require ultra-cold conditions.
Rwanda's Minister of Health Daniel Ngamije on Sunday also announced they had applied for either AstraZeneca or the Moderna vaccine.
Ngamije didn't, however, say how many doses they applied for but said they hoped Rwanda would be among the first countries in Africa to receive them.
It is not known if Tanzania, which claims there is no Covid-19 there, applied for any vaccine.
Separately, Egypt announced it applied for 20 million doses from Gavi, and expected to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
In Egypt, priority will be given to medical staff, followed by those with chronic diseases, Health minister Hala Zayed said,
Egypt has also received its first batch of coronavirus vaccine, produced by the Chinese company Sinopharma.
Gavi is supplying Covid-19 vaccines to 92 developing countries, including Kenya, through a facility called Covax.
Covax was created by Gavi, Unicef and the WHO to deliver two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021.
The facility says it has already secured millions of ready-made doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate, ready for distribution to the 92 developing countries.
The Geneva-based Gavi had given beneficiary countries up to December 7 to make their requests.
Experts say although there won’t be enough vaccines for every Kenyan, getting the shots to the right people could tame the pandemic.
Although Covax has signed agreements for nine different candidates, the Oxford candidate might reach developing countries first because it can utilise existing infrastructure in most countries.
The Oxford vaccine can utilise standard 2-8 degree cold chain infrastructure for transport, storage and delivery.
Gavi says it has already secured “hundreds of millions of doses” of the candidate through an MoU between Gavi and AstraZeneca, as well as through agreements between Gavi, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Serum Institute of India, the contracted manufacturer.
"Access to safe and efficacious Covid-19 vaccines for the most vulnerable groups everywhere in the world is the only way to bring the acute stage of this pandemic under control,” Gavi CEO Dr Seth Berkley said in a recent statement.
The Oxford vaccine — being tested in Kilifi in a phase I trial — uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus that causes a cold in chimpanzees.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, said it has already manufactured millions of doses and will make millions more immediately governments authorise its use.
Kenya has formed a Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce, which will develop policies and guidelines on how the vaccines will be rolled out once available.
“These are processes that are currently underway. We are quite excited and we are going to have a discussion with AstraZeneca to ensure that Kenya is first in line because about eight countries are on trial for the vaccine,” Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi said recently.
In September, the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation endorsed new guidelines on groups to prioritise for vaccination while supply is limited.
The framework advises countries to prioritise health workers who are directly engaged in the Covid-19 response.
The framework also leaves countries to make their own decisions depending on the type of vaccines that are available and what countries intend to achieve.
“Health is not, however, the only dimension of wellbeing that has been severely affected by the pandemic,” the guidelines say.
This means the choice for Kenya might also depend on whether the highest priority for the country is just to prevent death or to curb the spread of the virus and return to normalcy.