Health CS Susan Nakhumicha with Medical Services PS before the Senate Health Committee. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A Sh1.4 billion budget cut has led to an acute vaccine shortage in the country, risking the lives of infants.

The vaccine budget was reduced from Sh2.6 billion to Sh1.2 billion, which is insufficient to offset a Sh4.2 billion debt owed to Unicef and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Some vaccines that are out of stock include Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), Oral Polio, and Measles Rubella. As shelves run dry, newborns will have to wait longer for vaccinations, though the Ministry of Health promises to procure the essential vaccines from June.

A measles outbreak first reported in Garissa has since spread to Nairobi, Turkana, Mombasa, Kilifi, Samburu, Meru, Wajir, and Kwale.

Last week, Medical Services Principal Secretary Harry Kimtai acknowledged the stockouts and said that a shipment of vaccines from Unicef will arrive next month.


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"These stockouts put our children and vulnerable populations at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases and potential outbreaks," said Mr Kimtai.

The Ministry of Health has, however, assured of stop-gap measures to ensure that no child misses out on the vaccines to avoid disease outbreaks.

These include redistribution of vaccines from low-demand hospitals to areas where demand is high across the country, imploring Unicef to fast-track delivery of orders already paid for, and lobbying the National Treasury to allocate funds for immunisation programs.

“Recognizing that immunisation is one of the most effective public health interventions, we are committed to ensuring a consistent and uninterrupted supply of vaccines,” the PS said.

Kimtai said the ministry is implementing several strategies, including tracking vaccine consumption and facilitating redistribution between counties to mitigate stock-out situations as the country waits for Unicef's supply.

Additionally, mechanisms for transitioning from Gavi support and exploring sustainable financing options for vaccine procurement and program operations are being established.

"The ministry underscores the importance of maintaining high immunisation coverage and urges caregivers to work closely with healthcare providers during this period of stock challenges.

"The commitment remains unwavering to ensure all Kenyans have access to life-saving vaccines and essential immunization services,' said the PS.

The vaccines are administered under the Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunization are supplied by Unicef and Gavi- the Vaccine Alliance.

The vaccines are given to newborns to provide immunisation against six killer childhood diseases, namely tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles.

There has been an uproar by health advocates under the umbrella of Health NGO Network (Hennet). Other health civil society organisations, including Stop TB Partnership Kenya, have raised concerns with the ministry on the shortage.

“We write to bring to your attention a matter of urgent concern regarding the potential outbreak of measles and reported vaccine stock-outs in various regions of Kenya,” reads a letter written by Hennet, addressed to the Ministry of Health.

Hennet Executive Director Dr Margaret Lubale warns that the vaccine shortage and stock outs are alarming.

As a preventive measure, the stakeholders want the ministry to expedite the procurement and distribution of measles vaccine to replenish depleted stocks and ensure uninterrupted vaccination programme.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations have opposed budget cuts on immunisation, citing disruption. They further demanded an explanation from parliamentary health committees on why there was a budget cut.

The document was also signed by Amref Health Africa, Path-Kenya, Waci-Health, Access to Medicines Kenya, TB Champions and Coalition for Health Research and Development.

According to the stakeholders, failure to allocate enough budget for immunisation will jeopardise ability of the National Vaccine lmmunization Program to timely and urgently procure vaccines, affecting the Ministry of Health's efforts to carry out any campaign.

“This will also affect Kenya's co-financing payment to GAVI," they added.