Kenya’s impressive journey towards vaccine sufficiency

We have now had CoViD-19 under control for some time.

In Summary
  • When Kenya became the first East African country to receive its first batch of the Astra-Zeneca Vaccine, there was joy.
  • All TV stations were on hand to report live this important milestone.
CS Health Mutahi Kagwe during a press briefing at Afya House.
CS Health Mutahi Kagwe during a press briefing at Afya House.

As at the time of writing this, Kenya has received a total of 23, 279,820 doses of various Covid-19 vaccines with a total of 8,223,820 doses having been given. The doses we have received constitute 7,272,000 doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab and 16,007,820 doses of various vaccines being Pfizer, Moderna and even the Chinese Sinopharm Vaccine – all requiring two doses to be effective. With the doses received, Kenya can fully vaccinate 15,275,910 adults, constituting nearly 60% of the adult population.

The case was very different nine months ago. When Kenya became the first East African country to receive its first batch of the Astra-Zeneca Vaccine, there was joy and ululations. All TV stations were on hand to report live this important milestone.

When we administered our first jab in March, we were among the first in Africa to do so. At that time, focus was on essential and frontline workers because vaccine supplies were limited and those interested were many. Many Kenyans were suffering the brunt of unending CoViD-related restrictions that upended their lives and sank many into poverty as workplaces closed down and businesses shut down.

A common news item was thousands of Kenyans standing on long queues daily from as early as 4am and for as long as ten hours a day, often going back without getting the jab. At the time, ICU beds all over the country were full with people traversing as many as five counties in search of CoViD-19 beds. The situation was so bad that even getting a simple bed with oxygen supply was a nightmare for many families with loved ones on the verge of death. It was not uncommon for a patient in distress from Muranga to travel all the way to Makueni County in search of a bed with oxygen in a public health facility with private hospitals along the way full, and if not, unaffordable to many.

It does not sound like something to celebrate but we have moved from long queues to none at all in most of the over 3000 vaccination centres around the country offering vaccines for free. I choose to see this as a measure of great progress on the part of the Government to get her citizens the vital vaccines even as we move to ramp up communication around vaccine acceptance. Just the mere fact that we have capacity to vaccinate at that many sites, in addition to enlisting the Inter-religious Council to allow and advocate for vaccination drives among their congregations in places of worship is a milestone to behold. It was impressive to see MOH take vaccines to the Azimio La Umoja National Convention where thousands were vaccinated in a single day. Moving forward, this should be part and parcel of the approach taken by MOH in increasing vaccinations given Kenyans’ penchant for attending rallies and other social gatherings.

We have now had CoViD-19 under control for some time with positivity rates declining to all time lows over the last couple of months (over the last couple of days, positivity has began rising sharply in a new wave suspected to be driven by the new more virulent strain called Omicron).

Once again, the World Health organization (WHO) has cautioned the world to tighten CoViD-19 containment measures as the vaccine alone proves insufficient to deal with the Omicron strain that is ravaging the world. In his words, the WHO Chief said, “Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant. I need to be clear: vaccination alone will not get any country out of this crisis. It’s not vaccines instead of masks, distancing, ventilation or hand hygiene. Do it all. Do it consistently. Do it well”

Whereas our country has faced numerous challenges on our way to having more vaccines than we can give at a time, we now face a new challenge – Vaccine hesitancy. WHO defines Vaccine hesitancy as delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite

availability of vaccine services”. Vaccine hesitancy is progressively becoming a big concern not just in Kenya but worldwide, mostly fueled by alternative facts online and on social media affecting everyone from the most learned to the downright illiterate. There is an even more worrying trend of vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers who should know better.

Our situation is not helped by an activist judiciary that seems to be hell-bent on flexing its muscles than public health interests. We saw this early this week when the High Court issued conservatory orders against what is essentially vaccine mandates meant to encourage Kenyans to take the jab. This in my opinion is an ill-advised move given that the country has such a significant amount of vaccines lying idle with millions dragging their feet instead of getting vaccinated. The mandates are not meant to be punishment for those who are unvaccinated – but rather designed to encourage people to take up the vaccine so that we van be in a better position to deal with this pandemic. And given our love of travelling over the Christmas holidays, mandating vaccines would be great way to encourage people to get vaccinated so that we do not have instances of urban dwellers carrying the deadly virus to their old folk in the villages where access to healthcare and the facilities may not be as advanced as is in their usual dwelling places.

The President promised that he would ensure that we have enough vaccines in the country by the end of the year to fully vaccinate at least 10 million adult Kenyans. The Ministry of Health under the leadership of Cabinat Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has done a remarkable job in ensuring the President delivers on his promise – which he has done ahead of time. The onus is now on us to get ourselves, our family members, our friends and our colleagues to get themselves to the thousands of vaccination centres around the country and get vaccinated.

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