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First batch of AstraZeneca vaccine arrives in Kenya

At the stroke of midnight Tuesday, Kenya received its first batch of one million shots of AstraZeneca Coronavirus vaccines.

The jabs were moved to a secure location at JKIA before transfer to Kenya’s central vaccine depot in Kitengela, from where they will be distributed to eight other depots and vaccination centres across the country.

“It’s truly a great day for Kenya. We now have the equivalent of a bazooka or a machine gun in our fight against the virus,” said Health CS Mutahi Kagwe

The doses, according to scientific reports, are easy to store and distribute due to their positive temperatures of between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius.

Head of the division for vaccines and immunisation programme, Dr Collins Tabu explained the jabs were transported in special insulated boxes which are capable of maintaining the temperature of the doses to viable levels.

“Each of these pellets contains 3,000 doses which further has six smaller pellets with 500 doses. The pellets are lined with ice to maintain the cold chain,” explained Dr Tabu.

The Qatar Airways flight QR1341, ferrying 1,0200,000 doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII) touched down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) at 11:50pm, making Kenya the fifth African country to receive the jabs through WHO-backed Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access initiative (Covax).

Other countries that have so far received their doses from Covax are Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Angola. The first shipment is only enough to inoculated 500,000 people, requiring two doses eight to 12 weeks apart.

The Covax scheme hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year.

The rollout will initially focus on the most at risk frontline workers such as medical professionals, teachers, and the police.

On Tuesday, Mr Kagwe emphasised that the first shipment will exclusively be administered to health care workers before any other group.

“Let me be very clear. These doses will be given to health workers first,” he said.

But pregnant women and those under the age of 18 will not be part of the vaccination campaign, with those with allergic reactions also advised not to take the vaccines.

Some health workers have expressed doubt about the safety of the vaccines citing lack of sensitisation and training by the government, which began a two-day training ahead of the deployment of the vaccines.

“There is total confusion and fear amongst health workers because they have been kept in the dark, yet they are the first recipients of the Covid-19 vaccine. Sensitization is nil, and because of that, there may be some level of resistance,” Tweeted Alfred Obengo who heads the national nurses association.

Kenya’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) last week approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to ensure that most health workers, if not all, have received their vaccine shots in the first 100 days of the year.

Based on the National Covid-19 vaccines deployment and vaccination plan, 2021, early vaccination will focus on administration sites that can reach prioritised populations with as much throughput as possible like levels four, five, and six hospitals estimated at five per cent of the total facilities (approximately 479; 284 public and 195 private health facilities).

The Government will spend about Sh933.2 million for Phase I of the introduction of Covid-19 vaccines. A huge chunk of the money (Sh592.6million) will be used to store, distribute, clear, and procure vaccines and injection devices enough to cover 280,000 of the targeted population.

The government also intends to pump in Sh70.8 million towards training and capacity building and Sh17.2million for planning and coordination.

A total of Sh232million will go towards advocacy, communication, and community mobilisation initiative while Sh20.6million will be used for data management, monitoring, and surveillance.

According to the plan, during Phase I, the Ministry of Health intends to finance the total budget from its budgetary resources.

It is not yet known how long protection lasts with any of the coronavirus vaccines with a recent study finding that unvaccinated people are protected after catching Covid-19 for at least six months.

The Covax programme is designed so that richer countries buying vaccines donate – either financially or with doses – so that poorer nations have access too.

The initiative is led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and also involves the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi).