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State should take charge of Covid-19 vaccine distribution

EDITORIAL
By Editorial | February 26th 2021

Kenya's hope, and indeed that of the whole world, of defeating Covid-19 lies ineffective vaccines. Already, Russia and US biotech companies Moderna and Pfizer have developed vaccines, both of which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved and are currently being administered in some countries, especially in the West where the ravages of Covid-19 have been horrendous.

Africa has had its share of fatalities from Covid-19, but has been spared the depth of losses witnessed in the West. In part, this is due to individual efforts put in place by respective governments to contain the spread. But while this has largely worked, cases of Covid-19 still abound, and the solution lies in vaccines. 

Unfortunately, approved Covid-19 vaccines are in short supply, and Africa and other Third world countries appear to have been given the short end of the stick where distribution is concerned. Some African countries like Nigeria and South Africa have received a few doses of the vaccine that, viewed against the populations to be vaccinated, can barely scratch the surface.

Kenya is still in the process of acquiring the first batch of vaccines, but a few logistical problems have to be overcome first. Bureaucratic red tape, the cost factor, lack of modern storage facilities for the vaccines that must be stowed at minus 70 degrees Celsius and reliance on the initiative between GAVI (an international organisation created to improve access to vaccines for children living in the world's poorest countries) and WHO could hamper timely delivery of the vaccines.

To overcome this, the government is considering contracting private facilities to sell Covid-19 vaccines to the public. Besides the obvious risks inherent in such an undertaking, there are mandatory issues like the signing of indemnity agreements that bind importers to bear the burden of negative effects that might arise from vaccine use. This indemnity is a safeguard to ensure there is no monkey business in the procurement of the vaccines.  

The private sector involvement in vaccine distribution is good, but there are risks. The poor will be disadvantaged since the rich  are more likely to be given preference over them. Added to that is the risk of theft of the vaccines from public hospitals to private clinics. Such practice has been blamed for the perpetual shortages of drugs in public hospitals even when the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency assures the public hospitals have adequate supply of requisite medicines. The government, therefore, must take full charge of the process.

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