HEALTH: Mixed reactions as Covid-19 vaccination drive gets underway

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

Kenya is focused on the task of getting citizens immunized against Covid-19 amid mixed reactions.

The country received the first batch of vaccines recently and had doses dispatched to the counties for effective rollout of the vaccination drive.

The 1.02m doses are part of an allocation of 3.56m Astra Zeneca vaccine doses for the country.

Initially, the ministry of health planned to vaccinate 500,000 Kenyans, who were to receive a second dose after 8 weeks.

Plans have now changed following indications that the second batch will be available in three to four weeks’ time.

According Taskforce on Vaccine Deployment and Vaccination chair Dr Willis Akhwale, the country plans to train at least 23,000 health care workers in a bid to boost the ongoing immunization drive.

An estimated 8,000 volunteers will be included in the vaccination team.

The government plans to assign the staff to varied tasks in the immunization program including logistics, vaccine administration, monitoring and data collection.

Facilities to be used in the exercise include those with Level 4, 5 and 6 designation. This is attributed to the fact that they averagely have satisfactory numbers of healthcare workers.

Akhwale said the deployment plan will cost Sh34 billion to cover 30 per cent of the population between March 2021 to June 2023.

He also confirmed that Kenyans will get the vaccine free of charge during the first phase.

 Acting health director general Dr Patrick Amoth says the state intends to vaccinate 2.5m Kenyans by the end of June in Phase 1 of the campaign. Phase 2 targets 9.6m Kenyans.

The first phase of vaccine allocation will give priority to the high risk populations, including elderly and those with comorbidities aged above 18. It will run between March and June, 2021

Phase 2 targets 9.76 million people, and will be expected to run between July 2021 and June 2022.

Phase three is designed for other vulnerable groups of people of 18 years and above in specific clusters as well as those working in the hospitality and the tourism industry. Targeting 4.9m people, it will last from July 2022 to June 2023.

Meanwhile, Kenya has fallen short of globally recommended vaccination program preparedness levels .

This is according to the WHO’s Vaccine Introduction Readiness Assessment Tool, which lists Kenya with an average preparedness score rate of 33 per cent. This is way short of the recommended 80 per cent rate.

To vaccinate 60 per cent of its population as recommended by the Global Alliance for Vaccines (Gavi), Kenya requires 30 million doses . The government is yet to announce plans to reach this threshold.

State officials are urging patience as the program gets underway. “A vaccine does not mean that when they are here everyone will get the jab at once,” CS Mutahi Kagwe said in an interview on February 28, 2021.

On his part, Amref Africa boss and medic has Dr Githinji Gitahi has urged the recipients of the vaccine to ensure they return for their second shot eight months after receiving the first shot.

“Make sure you come back for the second shot so that you give your immunity the required protection,” said Dr Githinji on a local television show on March 1, 2021.

So far, the state has indicated that there no one will be compelled to take the vaccine.

To increase demand for vaccinations, the government has to carefully step up its awareness campaigns.

It also has to grapple with the problem of vaccine hesitancy among a section of Kenyans reluctant to take the vaccine.

A survey done of by research firm Trends and Insights for Africa (TIFA) and published on December 23, 2020 shows that just 54 percent of Kenyans were “very confident” in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.

This includes 53 percent of females and 54 percent of males in the 1,550 participants interviewed.

Study responses were qualified in terms of respondents being very confident, waiting to see if the vaccine has side effects and not open to taking it.

Only 41 percent indicated they would willingly take the vaccine, with 47 percent saying they would wait and see if the vaccine had side effects on others before considering the shot. Those who flatly refused to consider the option of getting vaccinated were 11 percent.  

All the regions covered had confidence levels above half or 50 percent among respondents interviewed except North Eastern which had only 40 percent.

Central Region was leading in terms of those nervous about the jab. 57 percent of the respondents wished to wait and see what the effect would be on others before taking it. It was followed by Coast and Nairobi, which tied at 50 percent.

With 14 percent of Central respondents indicated they would not go the vaccine at all, the region was only second to the Coast, where 15 percent indicated they would not go for the vaccine.

On the hand, 29 percent of Central residents indicated they would be among the first to go for the jab once it becomes available.

In contrast, Western Kenya residents expressed the greatest confidence in the vaccine, with 54 percent indicating willingness to get the shot, as opposed to just 39 percent who preferred to wait and see others take it first, and only 7 percent who flatly declined the possibility of getting it.

Globally, vaccination programs seem to be moving quite slowly in most countries, So far, 279m people in 111 countries have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

This is according to an update on the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, which is regularly updated. This adds up to less than 4 percent of the world’s population, at 3.57 percent, and simply means that less than 1 in 25 people on the planet is currently vaccinated.

In a clear display of the disadvantage faced by poorer countries in accessing the vaccine, there were 83 days between the first vaccination in the West and the first one in Africa.

By February 10, 2021, 130 countries were yet to administer a single Covid-19 dose. 

This was confirmed in a joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

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