The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly the biggest global health crisis of our time and perhaps the biggest challenge that the world has ever faced since World War Two. Despite the measures put across to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, the pandemic has been changing rapidly requiring different strategies to maintain the clinical preventative strategies, including immunization.
According to data from Our World in Data (OWID), more than two billion doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered, in over 190 countries globally. However, there have been major differences in the pace of progress in different parts of the world, with some countries having secured and delivered vaccinations to a huge proportion of their population.
Kenya was among the first countries on the African continent to receive and commence a COVID-19 vaccination program. According to the Kenyan Ministry of Health, these vaccines were to be administered to Kenyans in a three-phase program, hoping to vaccinate about 16 million people to curb the spread of the virus with vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson and Johnson.
The first phase was targeting to vaccinate 1.25 million people between February and June against a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that Kenya was facing.
The second phase objective was to vaccinate 9.7 million more Kenyans from July 2021 to June 2022 targeting Kenyans with underlying health conditions (older than 50 years as well as above 18). The second phase vaccination was scheduled at the stipulated time because the ministry of health expected that there would be more vaccines available at the time.
The third phase vaccination program targets 4.9 million of the “vulnerable population”. The program could run concurrently with the second phase but is dependent on the availability of adequate vaccines.
Amid jubilation from very expectant Kenyans, March 2021 marks the date when the country received the first batch of 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program aboard a Qatar Airways flight QR1314. This consignment was part of the initial allocation to Kenya of 3.65 million doses.
This was an important milestone in the war against the pandemic by the country with priority being given to the over 400,000 thousand health care workers (protecting them as they treat the victims of COVID, and provide essential health services) and others in the frontline like police and teachers, before the rest of the country was inoculated. These vaccines were to be administered on the arm in two doses and distributed 8 weeks apart.
According to a statement released by CS Mutahi Kagwe, by May 1st, 2021, 917,068 persons had been vaccinated with the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine since vaccination commenced in March 2021. Of the total number, 280,876 were aged 58 years and above, health workers, 160,947, teachers, 143,684, security officers, 77,417 while 254,144 were in the others category. This was slow progress compared to other countries that were already getting their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition, after the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, the Ministry of Health (MOH) revised the initial time frame of 8 weeks, between receiving the first and second dose of the vaccine. Research evidence from WHO showed that extending the time between doses by 4 weeks maximized the protective effects of the vaccine.
Despite the availability of the vaccine in the country, the vaccine uptake was still low in May compared to the rest of the world due to sections of the population linked to misinformation about the vaccine’s viability and its side effects.
However, through sensitization programs, the government was keen to boost the COVID-19 vaccination program, and more people took the opportunity to get the much-needed vaccination especially at a time when it was reported that the more lethal Indian and South African variant had been detected in Kisumu County.
By June 8th, 2021, the Ministry of Health announced that vaccination in Kenya had hit the 1 million mark with a total of 1,005,509 persons having been vaccinated against the Covid-19 disease countrywide. The numbers were an improvement compared to the low uptake of the two previous months. This proved that more people were sold on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine and that the government was making significant progress in its efforts to encourage more people to be vaccinated.
Unfortunately, only 471 Kenyans had received the second jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In an infographic shared by the MOH on Twitter, 403 of those vaccinated were health workers, and the remaining 68 were divided among 26 security officers, people aged 58 years and above were seven, one teacher, and 34 people in other categories. Of these, the total first doses are 978,127 while the total 2nd doses are 27,382 with the proportion of adults fully vaccinated is less than 1%.
The image below shows the vaccination progress in Kenya as of 14th June 2021.
The country has also experienced shortages in the much need needed COVID-19 vaccines. By the end of May 2021, the ministry of health announced that the country was faced with shortages of the AstraZeneca vaccine doses, with about 100,000 left. This forced the government to take back doses from the regions where the uptake had been low and redistribute them to begin the second phase of vaccination which was scheduled to start by early June.
AstraZeneca which had been the vaccine of choice for the African continent had been experiencing ongoing delays in shipments because an influx of the new variant of the coronavirus in India had left most African countries like Kenya strapped in shortages. The country was largely dependent on vaccines supplied by the Serum Institute of India (SII), but due to the deadly second wave of the pandemic, the Indian government imposed an export restriction of the vaccine till the end of 2021.
Fortunately, the government through the ministry of health announced plans for a procurement agreement through the African Union for 30 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine to complete their goal of vaccinating every adult in the country by next year. The Health CS argued that the vaccine would be a better alternative because, first, it is produced within the African continent and, secondly it comes with the added advantage of being a single dose regime.
It goes without saying that equitable access to safe and effective vaccines is crucial towards ending the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is very encouraging to see that the Ministry of Health is working hard to provide access to vital commodities as more vaccines proving and going into development.
The uptake of the vaccines may be slow at the moment, but with more efforts by the government to sensitize the public of the need for vaccination and demystifying the various myths about the vaccine could see the country achieve its goal of inoculating every adult in the country by 2022.
These safe and effective vaccines are game-changers and when properly utilized, they could help the country recover from the adverse political, social, and economic side effects of the pandemic. So, it is in everyone’s best interest to get vaccinated whenever the opportunity presents itself.
However, despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, for the foreseeable part of the future, we must continue cleaning our hands, ensuring proper ventilation indoors, wearing facial masks, avoiding crowds, and enforcing physical distancing.
We shouldn’t just throw caution to the wind, just because we are vaccinated. We may put ourselves and others at risk, particularly at a stage where research is still ongoing into just how much these vaccines protect the body not only against the disease but also against infection and transmission. As they say, protection against disease is always better than the cure.