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Alarm as public facilities grapple with shortage of crucial vaccines

A child reacts as health ministry officials administer Measles-Rubella vaccination on her at Daraja Mbili village in Kisii on June 26,2021. [File, Standard]

An acute shortage of essential vaccines has hit public hospitals nationwide, exposing infants, pregnant mothers, and other vulnerable individuals to health risks.

Some counties are surviving on their last batches of vaccines, while others have run out.

In the Coast region, public health facilities have halted vaccine administration due to depleted stocks.

Mombasa Health Executive Swabah Ahmed said that public hospitals have not received vaccines for months.

She noted that many counties are experiencing a shortage of five essential vaccines for newborns, including the polio vaccine (OPV and IPV) and BCG for tuberculosis.

Other vaccines out of stock nationwide are measles rubella (MR), rotavirus (Rota), tetanus diphtheria, and pentavalent.

"In Mombasa, the vaccines out of stock are OPV and BCG. Those nearly depleted are MR, PCV, and Rota," said Dr Ahmed in an interview yesterday.

Dr Ahmed said the county has shared information on the dire need for vaccines with the Council of Governors (CoG) and the Ministry of Health.

“The Ministry of Health should urgently address the issue without further delays to prevent unnecessary mortality and morbidity associated with shortage of vaccines,” she said.

In July last year, Mombasa reported a measles outbreak affecting 34 children in Mvita and Likoni sub-counties, prompting a vaccination campaign.

On October 4, 2022, there was another measles and mumps outbreak in Mombasa, and the county fears that the vaccine shortage could hinder efforts to combat the diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes measles as a highly contagious viral disease that can lead to rapid deaths.

In Kilifi, the situation is similar. Health Executive Peter Mwarogo said newborns and children under five years are the most affected by the shortage.

He noted that most counties are grappling with a thinning supply of six routine vaccines, putting hundreds of thousands of babies at risk.

Kilifi County Vaccine Coordinator Christine Mataza said county health facilities have depleted the BCG vaccine.

"BCG vaccine has been out of stock for the past two months and we are currently running short of oral polio (OPV & IPV) and MR (measles rubella vaccine),” said Ms Mataza.

She added: “Beginning of June, we will be completely out of all the vaccines if we won't have received any. We are turning away children from our health facilities because of vaccine shortage.”

Kwale, Tana River, Taita Taveta, and Lamu counties have also halted routine immunisation, that is touted as the most effective public health intervention for critical childhood diseases.

Mataza said children who do not get the vaccines in time risk contracting the diseases as their immunity levels drop, putting their lives in danger.

"With no access to vaccines, children are vulnerable to preventable diseases. This puts their lives at risk and compromises their long-term health outcomes. Children are at risk of contracting diseases like measles and polio, which could lead to blindness, while polio leads to permanent disability and even death," she said.

In Mount Kenya region, parents have been forced to move to several hospitals in search of the vaccines.

In Muranga County, for instance, parents said their search for vaccines in both public and private hospitals have not borne any fruits.

Mary Mumbi said she missed essential vaccines for her child at Murang'a Level 5 Hospital and was forced to travel to Maragua Level Four facility.

"Parents are suffering, and the government needs to ensure availability,” said Ms Mumbi.

Murang'a Health CEO Dr Fredrick Mbugua said procurement of vaccines is the role of the national government, and that the shortage has affected the whole country. 

In Nyeri County, the shortage is yet to hit but health officials warn that their current stocks can only last one month.

Similarly in Baringo County, public hospitals are staring at a vaccine shortage following the distribution of the last stock.

Baringo Health Executive Solomon Sirma said that the county had depleted all the vaccines after redistributing them to the six sub-counties of Mogotio, Baringo South, Central, North, Eldama Ravine, and Tiaty.

“For our case, we did redistribution of the vaccines from facilities which still had vaccines to the rest. I have information that the country has received vaccines, and we are hopeful that they will be distributed anytime,” he said.

Dr James Waweru, the Medical Superintendent at Nakuru Level Five Hospital, said, "We have enough of the BCG and measles rubella vaccines. However, the oral polio Vaccine will only run through this week."

In Nyanza and Western regions, health officials said they had run out of stock for rotavirus vaccine, while others are missing entire vaccines after their stocks depleted.

Kakamega Health Executive Bernard Wesonga said they borrowed enough vaccines from neighbouring Busia County.

According to the official, all health facilities across the 12 sub-counties have vaccines.

[Report by Marion Kithi, Boniface Gikandi, Amos Kiarie, Yvonne Chepkwony and Hildah Otieno]

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