• The top vaccine manufacturer in India has already begun refunding monies for vaccines
• The suspension of exports has created a shortfall of 90 million doses for Covax, 40 million affected in March and 50 million in April
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe yesterday warned Kenyans that there were no miracles in the acquisition of Covid vaccines.
The CS said the nationalisation of the Astrazeneca vaccines by the Indian government has forced 93 countries around the world to look for alternatives elsewhere.
“There are no miracles regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine. We have to live with the current situation as we find alternatives. In any case, we have until July to worry about the second dose,” the CS told the Star last night.
He, however, assured those who took the first AstraZeneca jab not to worry about any negative effect saying, “your immunity against the disease is more than 60 per cent meaning that if you get the virus you are likely to suffer fewer symptoms. No one will die because they did not get the second dose”.
As a result of the shortage, the government has placed an order of 30 million Johnson and Johnson doses, which will be delivered within a year.
During a meeting by Africa’s health minister last Saturday, Kagwe proposed that all the money raised via the Covax initiative be used to pay for 200 million doses of Pfizer and another 210 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
“With this arrangement, Kenya will not pay anything and will be able to easily get and vaccinate 30 million people with Johnson and Johnson which is being manufactured in Africa and will be a single dose.
Vaccination centres gave May dates for the second dose after eight weeks and the government revised that to June to cater for delays in supply. Even that 12-week window is now in doubt.
The AstraZeneca vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, has said it can no longer give commitments for supply.
It has begun refunding monies it had received from countries to ship doses.
The suspension of exports has created a shortfall of 90 million doses for Covax, 40 million affected in March and 50 million in April.
Head of vaccines deployment task force Willis Aklwale had said some 2.5 million doses would arrive from India in early June. The earliest supplies might resume in July.
The one million Kenyans who have received their first doses will wait beyond the 12 weeks to receive their final doses.
Scientists still do not know what this means to their immunity.
India has banned all vaccine exports due to its Covid-19 variant that is ravaging the country.
It is importing Sputnik V from Russia and has extended vaccination campaign to people aged 18 years and below.
The suspension of exports has created a major shortfall in doses for Covax, the WHO-backed plan for poor nations that Kenya relies on.
The Serum Institute had promised to supply Covax with one billion doses of the AstraZeneca jab by March. It had only shipped about 30 million doses to Covax when it halted supplies.
Kenya received 1.02 million doses under the Covax facility in March, and an extra 100,000 doses from the Indian government.
"Our hope is now receiving part of the 60 million stockpiles of the AstraZeneca vaccine doses in the United States," a member of the vaccines' deployment task force told the Star on Tuesday.
The US stockpile is awaiting checks from the US Food and Drug Administration before the doses are exported to the beneficiary countries.
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe said last week that they had "reached out to the highest levels of the US government" for doses.
Global health expert Dr Benard Muia Tuesday said Kenya's only way out of the virus crisis is masking, distancing and handwashing. He suggested the country cannot depend on immunisation.
Dr Muia said getting the second consignment of the doses is an exercise in futility.
“We are in trouble for sure, take it seriously as far as vaccines is concerned because when we look at what is happening globally, we developing countries are disadvantaged and we are not even sure of June,” Dr Muia said.
“The dose we are talking about coming in June there is no certainty in it, the only weapon on our hands we are left with is observing these protocols,” he added.
The medic said that failure to get the second dose will have a negative effect as it is supposed to play a critical role in immunity boosting.
“The second booster is crucial so failure to get the second dose means how the immunity was supposed to work will not be so because we are not getting this booster. Of course, we vaccinated, the effect was there, the immunity was triggered to produce antibodies but if we had a booster then things would be far much better.”
World Health Organization Representative to Kenya Dr Rudi Eggers has warned that the delays might open a door for new waves and variants.
"Almost all of those doses have now been given. And due to the export restrictions from India, the next shipment has been delayed. So we are currently in the situation where the supply of vaccine is the biggest problem,” Dr Eggers said.
“So we do encourage countries to actually also in addition to the Covax facility to source the vaccine bilaterally from the manufacturer," he added.
A total of 917,068 Kenyans had been inoculated with their first dose of the Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine by Monday.
Some 280,876 are those aged above 58 years, 160,947 are healthcare workers, 143,684 are teachers, 77,417 are security officers while 254,144 are members of the public.
Head of Africa CDC John Nkengasong has warned that the restrictions on vaccine exports would be catastrophic for the continent.
“Very clearly it worries me and very clearly the second doses won’t come in time. It really means that everybody who has been vaccinated until now will not get the second dose as planned,” Nkengasong said.
Kenya has also decided against getting a different type of vaccine for the second dose because there is no scientific evidence that it is effective or safe.
The country is looking to get Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vials to support vaccine roll out.
Acting Health director general Patrick Amoth said they will be deployed immediately they land in the country.
The WHO will be meeting to deliberate on the Covid-19 vaccines patents and a waiver might help countries make and sell cheap vaccines.
Dr Muia said that despite the progress on the matter, it might take time for the idea to be actualised.
“Even if the patent comes into play, we are not going to get those things soon and it is only South Africa who can produce those vaccines so we are not yet out of the woods.”
(edited by o. owino)