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Vaccine shortage puts babies’ lives at risk

 Mothers at Forest Dispensary in Nakuru wait for their babies to be vaccinated. Health facilities across the country have reported vaccine shortages. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Children exposed to life-threatening tuberculosis are among millions of Kenyans facing an acute vaccine shortage.

A survey by The Standard revealed that a number of health facilities lack life-saving vaccines or have limited stocks even as the Health ministry insisted its nine depots across the country were fully stocked, and blamed counties for poor distribution.

Among those facing higher risk are infants who could contract tuberculosis due to shortage of BCG vaccine. This is the vaccine given to newborns to protect them from contracting different forms of TB, including TB meningitis which is common in infants.

The grim situation exposes the lives of millions of Kenyans, especially children under five years to life-threatening conditions or even death.

But the Government has come out to explain the shortage witnessed in different parts of the country, blaming it on poor distribution networks in the counties.


According to the official in charge of immunisation at the ministry, the country is self-sufficient on matters vaccines.

“We do not have a shortage of BCG vaccine,” said Dr Collins Tabu.

Tabu said the national government has always procured and delivered vaccines on time, and that the latest consignment was released less than a week ago.

The delivery, he said, was made to nine depots spread across the former provinces, from where the counties collect them for delivery to health facilities

“It is counties which are supposed to facilitate distribution of the vaccines. There is no shortage, what is happening is as a result of counties’ irregular distribution,” said Tabu.

The irregular distribution, Tabu explained, has made some facilities in the counties have more than what they need while others have less or no vaccines at all.

He said it was up to county managements and hospital administrations to find how they can get vaccines from the facilities that had excess.

“If for example Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) does not have vaccines then it is up to the management of the hospital to see how they can get vaccines from the nearest facility,” he said.

A survey by The Standard revealed that there were no yellow fever, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and cholera vaccines at Nairobi’s City Hall vaccination centre.

Those seeking yellow fever vaccines, which is compulsory before flying out to some countries, were referred to the county’s other facilities and Wilson Airport. Those who went there were again referred to a private facility.

Yellow fever vaccine costs Sh2,500 at City Hall but averages Sh10,000 in private facilities.

At Mbagathi Hospital, patients were also referred to private practitioners for the vaccine.

The situation was worse at Mukuru Health Centre, the only public health facility that serves majority of Embakasi residents, where not even one vaccine was available.

Health officers at the facility blamed the county government for not supplying them and said they had no alternative but to refer patients to private clinics within the area.


In Samburu County, most of the residents rely on faith-based health institutions, especially those run by the Catholic Church, which buy their vaccines from Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies.

However, health authorities in some counties from the North Rift assured residents of adequate vaccines and other medicines in health facilities. The vaccines, however, come at a higher price. For example, a yellow fever jab at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret goes for Sh3,300.

In Uasin Gishu, Health Executive Evelyne Rotich said there were enough vaccines in all hospitals.

“There is no cause for alarm,” she said.

The county neighbours Elgeyo Marakwet where there has been an ongoing Hepatitis B vaccination campaign. Here, health officials said they had received enough vaccines to contain the spread.

Elgeyo Marakwet Health Executive Kiprono Chepkok said the county received vaccines from the Health ministry on Thursday last week, ending a three-day shortage.

Shortage resolved

“We had a shortage but that has been resolved,” said Mr Chepkok.

The health executive said the county had rolled out free Hepatitis B vaccination for pupils in all public schools in the county. He said other vaccines that are mandatory for young children were available in all health facilities across the county.

Mr Chepkok said the county received Sh52 million worth of medicines from the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa), which included vaccines.

Health workers conducting the vaccination exercise told The Standard that 30 new cases of Hepatitis B were detected last week, prompting the county to seek help from the national government.

Long queues were witnessed at the Public Health Department in Mwembe Tayari, Mombasa County, where the yellow fever vaccine was administered at Sh2,000.

Uninterrupted services

At the Coast General Hospital, immunisation services went on uninterrupted with the county administration denying any shortage of vaccines.

“The county has not experienced any shortage, we are getting our supplies as usual,” said Health Executive Hazel Koitaba.

In Kisumu, mothers with week-old babies queued at Lumumba Hospital for vaccines even as the medical superintendent, Kevin Rombosia insisted that the facility had enough supplies.

The coordinator of the expanded programme in immunisation for Kisumu central sub-county Edna Okombo said the 28 facilities offering immunisation within the sub-county received seven vital vaccines on January 7.

She said the facilities did not receive a BCG vaccine whose last supply was in October last year but still has enough stock left.

[Additional reporting by Lydia Mwawasi, Stephen Rutto and Mactilda Mbenywe]

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