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Wealthy Kenyans set to receive early Covid-19 vaccines

Kenya has opened talks with a global partnership under the World Health Organisation for local top private hospitals to buy the Covid-19 vaccines for wealthy Kenyans.

A senior official at the Ministry of Health told Business Daily that the State and Covax are in discussion to allow private facilities like Nairobi Hospital to buy the jabs from the global partnership.

Backers of the new initiative reckon it will provide vaccines to vulnerable and wealthy persons who could miss out or are not eligible to be inoculated under the government scheme.

Pharmaceutical giants behind the sought-after jabs are restricting sale to the private sector and have given priority to supplies to governments and multilateral organisations like Covax — which hopes to deliver two billion doses to poor countries.

This restriction has seen a string of tycoons, politicians and royalty from across the world descend in recent months on the United Arab Emirates, where friends in high places have helped them secure early access to coronavirus vaccines.

In Kenya, the government hopes to have 16 million people inoculated over the next two years with the priority being health workers, the elderly and the vulnerable.

Now, the government seeks to create an option for private hospitals to acquire the vaccines and charge a “minimum surcharge” in the race to broaden inoculation coverage.

“The discussions are underway on private hospitals buying and getting the jabs, but they are not straightforward because we must have an indemnity agreement with the hospitals,” said the ministry of health top official who sought anonymity because talks are in progress.

“We do not have a timeframe now because it is a complex process that is being guided by Covax.”

The official said Kenya planned to inoculate its population for free and only a “small minority” who wished to pay for the shots would have the option in the controlled private market.

Kenya seeks to join countries like Pakistan, which last week started importing Covid-19 vaccine for private sale.

“Just like other vaccines like Polio, we will allow private hospitals to offer it because the idea is to vaccinate as many people as possible. It will be necessary to regulate the jab and private hospitals will only be allowed to load a service charge for the vaccine,” said the official.

Kenya is offering the Covid-19 vaccine shots free of charge to its citizens at $7.70 (Sh845.80) per shot as negotiated under the Covax facility.

Kenya has returned to the World Bank for a Sh10 billion loan to help purchase Covid-19 vaccines following a financing shortfall that threatens the country’s inoculation plan against the infectious virus.

The money will buy 11 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab that will be used to vaccinate five million people.

The Treasury failed to allocate Sh4.5 billion needed for the next phase of Covid-19 vaccination starting July, raising the risk that targeted Kenyans could miss out on the jab.

This has forced Kenya to seek help from the World Bank in an economy faced with deteriorating cash-flow situation that is marked by falling revenues and worsening debt service obligations.

Kenya requires Sh34 billion to ship in 36 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines by June next year when it expects to have 16 million people inoculated.

Donors will provide Sh20 billion, leaving Kenya to seek Sh14 billion from taxes.

The country in early March received 1.02 million doses, enough for slightly more than 500,000 people requiring two doses eight to 12 weeks apart. This would cover health and home-care workers, and teachers.

The second phase would involve 9.7 million people — comprising people aged above 50 years and those aged above 18 years with underlying medical conditions — between July this year and next June.

The third phase, to unfold concurrently with the second, will be aimed at 4.9 million people, including those living in congested areas and seen as particularly vulnerable.

Kenya is already in talks with the World Bank for the first tranche of Sh5 billion needed in the fiscal year starting July.

Kenya had by yesterday recorded 120,910 infections and deaths at 2,011 with the Ministry of Health, warning of a spike in infections amid the threat of a third wave that has proved deadly.

More than 50 people have died from the virus over the past five days.

Covax, which is led by the GAVI vaccines alliance along with the WHO and other partners, aims to deliver more than two billion doses to 92 lower- and middle-income countries, covering up to 20 percent of their populations.

Those behind the initiative hope to level the playing field that has seen wealthier nations quickly vaccinate millions, ahead of poorer regions.