Britain on Wednesday approved a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, a welcome development for Kenya that plans to purchase millions of doses of the same.
Kenya has been taking part in the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the Kenya Medical Research Institute Wellcome Trust-Kilifi.
The vaccine -- ChAdOx(AZD1222) -- has been billed to suitable for Kenya as it can be stored under temperatures of between 2°C and 8°C.
Britain becomes the first country in the world to give the jab a green light as it battles a major winter surge driven by a new, highly contagious variant of the virus.
However, the European Union is yet to approve the vaccine because it does not have the required paperwork for roll out on the continent, a move that will delay Kenya’s acquisition of the vaccine.
Despite the UK planning a mass rollout in early January, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) deputy executive director Noël Wathion said the drug could not even be given a conditional marketing licence.
AstraZeneca said the authorisation was for a two-dose regime and that the vaccine had been approved for use for emergency supply. Britain has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine.
"The government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine for use," the health ministry said.
Pooled results from those trials show it had an overall efficacy of 70.4 per cent. Efficacy was 62 per cent for trial participants given two full doses, but 90 per cent for a smaller sub-group given a half, then a full dose.
Researchers said that the finding of 90 per cent efficacy for the low-dose/high-dose regime needed more investigation. AstraZeneca did not specify which dose regime had been approved.
Last week, the Kenyan government said it will spend Sh10 billion to purchase 12 million doses of the vaccine.
Health Acting Director-General Patrick Amoth said the low price of the vaccine compared to other candidates was one of the reasons Kenya settled for it.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which US, Singapore and Canada have ordered, goes for Sh2,000 per dose, followed by Moderna, which costs between Sh1,500 and Sh1,700 a dose.
AstraZeneca goes for between Sh400 and Sh600 a dose.
Dr Amoth noted that the AstraZeneca vaccine was also suitable for the country’s cold chain logistics, as it can be stored under temperatures of between 2°C and 8°C.
"The other two vaccines require a unique cold chain system that most countries do not have, " he said in reference to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Amoth said safety, immunogenicity and efficacy were the three main thresholds the country considered to settle on AstraZeneca.
"We want a vaccine that is vector carrier developed, WHO prequalified and cold chain that we can sustain, that is between 2°C and 8°C, and also the lowest price. If you look at all those parameters, Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ticks all, except maybe one, as we await the WHO prequalification," he said.
Targeted recipients of the vaccine are 430,000 health workers, 5.3 million elderly persons, 4.4 million with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and hypertension, and 830,000 teachers and police officers.
These populations account for 20 per cent of the country.
Kenya is also in line to receive 24 million doses of the vaccine for being a member of the Covax vaccine accelerator programme carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Additional reporting by Graham Kajilwa and Reuters.