Covid-19 vaccine schedules extended by 4 weeks

Kisii Teaching & Referral Hospital CEO Dr. Enock on receiving his 1st dose of the Covishield vaccine on March 17, 2021. PHOTO/FB

Kenyans who received the first dose of the Astra Zeneca Covid-19 vaccine will have to wait for at least a month longer before they can receive the second one.

In a tweet posted on its official Twitter handle, the Ministry of Health announced the changes to the vaccination schedule that recommend taking the second dose 12 weeks after the first one.

Initially the ministry had recommended that vaccine recipients wait at least 8 weeks before visiting the medical facility for a second dose.

“We have revised the duration between the administration of the first and the second doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine from eight to twelve weeks,” read the tweet posted on April 24, 2021.

According to Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, the decision is driven by World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

“Guidance from WHO and the current evidence shows that taking the second dose at 12 weeks provides provides a higher immune response and better protection. With this evidence and considering the global supply is constraints, this shift is justified,” he wrote in the ministry statement dated April 24, 2021.

Kenya ordered its vaccine stocks from the Serum Institute of India. The country has lately been locked in an agonizing struggle with record numbers of Covid-19 infections that have overwhelmed its health care system.

After a further 349,165 new cases were reported on April 23, 2021, the country’s Covid tally stands at 16.5 million cases.

Globally, only the USA has reported more Covid-19 cases than the Asian country.

In a bid to protect its population from the current wave of Covid-19 infections, the country has temporarily halted vaccine exports. The move has negatively impacted on the vaccination program in Kenya, with the first casualty becoming the March 30, 2021 arrival of the second batch of 2,544,000 doses.

Kenya hopes to secure the batch by June 2021. Health officials are however not worried by the delay among recipients in accessing the second dose.

Echoing Mr Kagwe’s sentiments, Covid-19 Advisory Board Chair Dr Willis Akhwale said scientific research supports the delay in getting the second shot from 8 to 12 weeks after the first dose.

“Science has shown that the second dose will offer you more protection, and produce a greater immune response, if you get it at 12 weeks compared to 8 weeks,” said Dr Akhwale in a local television interview.  

Health CAS Dr Mercy Mwangangi confirmed the decision, even as she sought to reassure Kenyans that the vaccination program was still on course.

“The first recipients of the the second dose are expected to receive their second dose during the first week of June. Again, for clarification purposes, Kenyans who got vaccinated in the first week of the campaign around March 5 probably got a message telling them that they should come for a second dose around May 5, that is at week eight,” said Dr Mwangangi.

Dr Mwangangi, who read the ministry’s statement on behalf of the CS at the daily Covid-19 press briefing, said the adjustment would not adversely affect the ministry’s drive to vaccinate at least 3,564,000 Kenyans in the first two phases of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

The CAS said Kenyans that have received the first Astra Zeneca dose should now go for their second dose after twelve weeks.

“Now we are telling you we have shifted the date by four weeks. So if the message required you to come in for a second dose by May 5, 2021, you count another four weeks before you do so,” she said.

The ministry, said the medic and administrator, would still alert vaccine recipients of the adjusted dates to eliminate the uncertainty around the process.

“Of course we shall able to communicate with you and give you the correct date of the second vaccine dose,” she added.

In the CS’s press statement, the government noted that vaccine schedules had been varied elsewhere across the globe.

Mr Kagwe added that vaccine shortages were caused by delays in import arrivals and related supply chain hitches .

“Similar shifts have indeed been made by other countries like the United Kingdom. It should be noted that global vaccine shortages are beyond Kenya and there is an international effort to deal with them,” said the CS.

Kenya’s Covid-19 vaccination drive kicked off on March 5, 2021 with the innoculation of acting director general of health services Dr Patrick Amoth.

As at Monday, April 26, 2021, a total of 826, 617 Kenyans had been vaccinated. According to Ministry of Health statistics, this represents 74 percent of the total stocks at hand. A total of 1.02 million doses that were flown into the country on March 2, 2021 for the first phase of the vaccination campaign. Kenya also received a donation of 100,000 doses from the Indian government boosting its stocks to 1,120,000. This means that a total of 293,893 or 26 percent of the doses in that batch remain for administration to Kenyans.

Out of the targeted 208,418 health workers, 152,809 or 73 percent have received their first dose. A further 126,801 or 38 percent of the 330,671 teachers and 69,253 members of the disciplined forces have gotten their shot.

The country’s Covid-19 tally indicates that 2,643 people have so far died, with 156,981 cases and 106, 836 reported recoveries. Of the recoveries, 77,822 were from home based care with 29,014 being treated at various health facilities.

According to the statement, a total of 1,417 patients were still admitted in various health facilities countrywide, with 6,959 patients on home based care. Those admitted in intensive care units (ICU) were 205, with 133 on oxygen supply and 42 on ventilatory support.

Even as the CS acknowledged advanced plans to acquire Johnson and Johnson vaccines, he called on Kenyans not to lower their guard.

“We call for Kenyans to adhere to existing Covid-19 safety protocols that include washing hands, wearing masks and keeping social distance. As we wait for vaccines, discipline will be our saviour,” said Mr Kagwe.

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