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Kenya receives AstraZeneca vaccine: What you need to know

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine requires two doses, given four weeks apart.

In Summary

• The AstraZeneca vaccine has a number of advantages over other leading vaccines.

• Kenya ordered 24 million doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, enough for 20 per cent of the country’s population.

Just before midnight, 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

Just before midnight, 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

The vaccines were transported by Unicef as part of the Covax facility, which aims to provide equitable access to vaccines for all countries around the world.

The vaccines arrived at 11.23 pm on Qatar Airways flight QR1341, which was met at the airport by senior Kenya Government officials led by the Health CS Mutahi Kagwe and UnicefRepresentatives.

The vaccine cost?

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has a number of advantages over other leading vaccines.

The vaccine is easier to produce, store and goes for $3 (Sh329) per dose.

That reflects the prices paid by governments like the United States that have placed orders for tens or even hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine.

However, in Kenya, the government is buying a dose at $7 (Sh768) per dose.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe inspects the first batch of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on March 2, 2021.
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe inspects the first batch of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on March 2, 2021.
Image: FREDRICK ONYANGO

Unicef said the vaccines landed at JKIA at $3, but the Ministry of Health quotes $7.

Willis Akhwale, chairman of the Covid-19 taskforce for vaccine deployment, told the Star this was just a working estimate arrived at in January when they government was not sure which vaccine Kenya would get and the exact cost.

“It is a planning cost and it is not final. The Covax estimates for most vaccines was between $6 to $8 and so we pegged our working figure at an average of $7,” he said.

Kenya ordered 24 million doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, enough for 20 per cent of the country’s population.

However, Gavi said it will initially supply just a few doses to cover frontline workers and people with pre-existing health conditions (4,176,000 doses, according to a schedule shared by Unicef, Gavi and the WHO).

Brazil is buying at $3.16, the US and Bangladesh at $4, South Africa $5.25, almost all European countries are buying at $3.50.

But what exactly is contained inside this vaccine?

While this vaccine has yet to be recommended for an Emergency Use Listing by WHO, it has undergone review by the European Medicines Agency and consequently meets WHO’s criteria for SAGE consideration.

The EMA has thoroughly assessed the data on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine and has recommended granting conditional marketing authorisation for people aged 18 and above. 

The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, a group of experts that provides an independent and authoritative guide to the WHO on the topic of safe vaccine use, receives and assesses reports of suspected safety events of potentially international impact. 

The primary analysis of the Phase III clinical trials from the UK, Brazil and South Africa, published as a preprint in The Lancet confirmed Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca is safe and effective at preventing Covid-19, with no severe cases and no hospitalisations, more than 22 days after the first dose.

Results demonstrated vaccine efficacy of 76% (CI: 59% to 86%) after a first dose, with protection maintained to the second dose. With an inter-dose interval of 12 weeks or more, vaccine efficacy increased to 82% (CI: 63%, 92%).

According to the World Health Organisation, no substantive data are available related to the impact of AZD1222 on transmission or viral shedding.

Double-stranded DNA 

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is based on the virus’s genetic instructions for building the spike protein. But unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines,  the Oxford vaccine uses double-stranded DNA.

The gene for the coronavirus spike protein to another virus called an adenovirus.

Adenoviruses are common viruses that typically cause colds or flu-like symptoms.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca team used a modified version of a chimpanzee adenovirus, known as ChAdOx1. It can enter cells, but it can’t replicate inside them.

According to the New York Times, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 is more rugged than the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

DNA is not as fragile as RNA, and the adenovirus’s tough protein coat helps protect the genetic material inside.

As a result, the Oxford vaccine doesn’t have to stay frozen. The vaccine is expected to last for at least six months when refrigerated at 38–46°F (2–8°C).

Pregnancy and the vaccine

While pregnancy puts women at higher risk of severe Covid-19, very little data are available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy. 

Pregnant women may receive the vaccine if the benefit of vaccinating a pregnant woman outweighs the potential vaccine risks. 

For this reason, pregnant women at high risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (e.g. health workers) or who have comorbidities that add to their risk of severe disease, maybe vaccinated in consultation with their health care provider.

How many doses?

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine requires two doses, given four weeks apart, to prime the immune system to fight off the coronavirus.

The combination of two full-dose shots led to just 62 per cent efficacy.