The government has crafted an ambitious strategy to beat the Covid-19 pandemic that has shaken or devastated all aspects of life 15 months since the first case was confirmed.
It has been a period of unprecedented loss and grief and Kenyans have been waiting impatiently for life to get back to normal, or wondering about the new normal.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is keen to place Kenya in the league of nations that have contained the pandemic.
Countries that have contained or beaten Covid-19 include Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Monaco, Iceland, Djibouti and the Solomon Islands.
In the plans of the Ministry of Health, by June 2022, Kenya will have reached herd immunity in which the chances of an infected person infecting a community are minimal.
Willis Akhwale, the chairman of the Kenya Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Taskforce, said the government will accelerate vaccine development to achieve herd immunity.
The long-term plan is to make Kenya a supply hub for Eastern and Central Africa.
He told the Star said the country is seeking to manufacture vaccines, not just for Covid-19 but for all diseases, including childhood diseases like measles and polio.
“We could easily move to some vaccines, like those offering protection against childhood diseases, because some of them do not have patents,” he added.
But in the short term, Akhwale said, the country is making every effort to start manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines.
“We want to start with ones already approved. That is why we want to partner with agencies that have WHO-approved vaccines. We will seek technology transfer and more importantly ensure there is a market for the vaccines,” he explained.
Kenya would not face lots of challenges in making Covid-19 vaccines because the country already produces doses for animals.
“You realise that we do manufacture veterinary vaccines, meaning we are familiar with the processes and procedure,” Akhwale said.
In the meantime, the government wants to engage in what is called the ‘fill and finish’ approach.
In the pharmaceutical industry, fill and finish is the process of filling vials with vaccines and finishing the process of packaging the medicine for distribution.
Akhwale said they have identified a Kemsa go-down in Embakasi, which is being evaluated for renovation.
“Research and development will be taking place at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. It will be the lead agency responsible for all research and development,” he said.
The idea is to import the Covid-19 vaccines unpackaged and finalise the logistics of filling and packaging them in Kenya. This will save time and will make Kenya a supply hub for Eastern and Central Africa.
Kenya has already ordered 10 million doses from Johnson and Johnson, with the first consignment expected next month.
The first phase of vaccination between March to June was introductory.
“During that period, the vaccine situation in the world was tight. There was a global supply constraint, but we are now seeing improvements in supply. More vaccines have been approved for use. Many rich countries have vaccinated their populations that is why they are not holding onto vaccines,” he said.
Akhwale added, “For us as a government, we have put in money. We ordered 10 million doses and because of price reduction, we will get 13 million doses.
“We want to see if we can get two million doses every month. And if we do that, we are going to get to what we call a campaign mode for vaccination.”
Akhwale said during the first phase of vaccination, the country did not do a thorough campaign because it was targeting specific groups—health workers, security officers and teachers.
“You could not go shouting yourself sore for help but during the next phase, there will be multiple channels. We will do it at healths posts and places of worship as we do outreach,” he stated.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe disclosed on Friday Kenya has secured another donation of vaccines from development partners.
“We will be receiving a donation of 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to fully vaccinate 800,000 more Kenyans,” the CS said.
The Pfizer vaccines will arrive alongside another batch of 500,000 doses of Johnson and Johnson, a single-shot vaccine that will be used to inoculate a further half a million Kenyans.
Kenya has lined up Sh21.3 billion to fund the ambitious Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The total amount includes a Sh14 billion World Bank loan and Sh7.3 billion that parliamentarians approved in Tuesday’s supplementary budget.
The financing will help Kenya buy vaccines through an African Union facility and that of Covax — the global scheme for sharing jabs with less developed countries.
In March 2021, the government rolled out a National Vaccine Deployment Plan and the strategy was to vaccinate 10 million adults by June 2022 and approximately 16 million by June 2023.
“But inspired by our ‘Acceleration Doctrine’, which is about constantly increasing the speed of achieving our goals, we revised our Vaccine Deployment Plan,” Akhwale said.
In his media briefing on June 29, President Kenyatta said, “Instead of vaccinating 10 million adults by June 2022, we will vaccinate the entire adult population of 26 million Kenyans by June 2022.
“In fact, by Christmas this year, we intend to vaccinate between 12 and 15 million adults.
“According to our experts, Kenya will have built a capacity to vaccinate 150,000 people every day from August 2021.”
And because the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is administered in a single shot, the speed of rolling out the vaccination programme is expected to be much faster, the President said.
“Using these vaccines and others in the pipeline, this is how we will vaccinate 12 to 15 million Kenyans by Christmas 2021 and 26 million by June 2022,” the President said.
The government intends to vaccinate an extra four million young adults by June 2022.
“With a vaccinated population of 30 million people, this will allow us to begin the journey for herd immunity against this pandemic. And this is our intention for the next 12 months,” the President said.
Even as every effort is being made to vaccinate Kenyans, experts have warned the country is likely to experience a fourth Covid-19 wave from mid-July fuelled by the highly infectious Delta variant.
The highly transmissible variant first detected in India is now gaining dominance over the Alpha variant in the country and is said to have fuelled the third wave, especially in the Western and Nyanza regions.
Currently, Kericho, Kakamega, Nyamira, Kisii, Migori, Siaya, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Trans-Nzoia, Bomet, Vihiga, and Busia, have been on a special regiment of lockdown since June 17.
Out of every five positive cases, two are from this region. The region has experienced the highest positivity rate at 23 per cent, compared to the national average of 9.1 per cent.
As of Friday, data from the Health ministry shows 1,447,648 vaccines had so far been administered across the country. Of these, the total first doses are 1,013,895 while the second doses are 433,753.
(Edited by V. Graham)