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Vaccine here, but we are on our own

By Ken Opalo | March 13th 2021

The Ministry of Health projects that it will take two years before majority of Kenyans access the Covid-19 vaccines. This is a shocking revelation. It is also a reminder that we are far from being able to return to the pre-pandemic “normal.”

Without a high rate of vaccination and adequate mitigation strategies, cases will likely keep rising. An unchecked spread of the virus could result in new (and perhaps more lethal) strains of the virus. For all intents and purposes, 2021 may not be that different from 2020.

Unless the “international community” agrees to a global pact on vaccine patents, there is little the government can do about acquiring doses for Kenyans. We will have to wait in line. And it is a long line. Wealthy countries have hogged most of the vaccine supply, some even in excess of their domestic populations.

This, combined with vaccine nationalism and geopolitical competition, means that governments in those countries are likely to pay little attention to global public health concerns and the plight of vulnerable populations in many low-income countries.

In other words, we are on our own. I hope our apparent helplessness in the midst of this public health crisis serves as a wakeup call to our leaders and others in the region on the need for investments in both research and effective delivery of public health services. We cannot continue relying on the benevolence of others.

The vaccination rate projections raise important questions about the next one year. Can we afford another extended lockdown?

If not, what can we do to mitigate the risk of infections, virus mutations, and increasing mortality rates? Are there other medical interventions we can invest in besides vaccines?

From a policy standpoint, it is going to be difficult to have a restrictive 2021 to contain the spread of the virus. Kenyans are tired. Many have lost their loved ones, jobs, and all sense of normalcy. School children have lost several months of learning. And the economy is on life support. Simply stated, people are ready to get back to “normal.” Yet restrictions appear to be the only weapon remaining in the government’s policy arsenal.

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Needless to say, the government will struggle to maintain any meaningful restrictions as the economy struggles and other countries begin opening up after vaccinating significant shares of their populations.

The same government has also lost credibility on the matter, since it seems to be perfectly fine with holding of super spreader large gatherings in the name of political campaigns.

With neither vaccine access nor ability to completely lockdown, we must outside the box. What can we do to minimise mortality rates? What does the scientific evidence say about possible therapeutics? How can we test more people to promptly begin treatment? We do not have the option of simply sitting back and waiting for help. We must be proactive in ensuring that we save as many Kenyan lives as possible over the next year.

We must also be serious about containing the spread of the Covid-19 virus. That means observing obvious public health guidelines regarding crowded gatherings, especially indoors. In this regard, the example must come from the top.

Leading politicians, including the president, cannot credibly ask Kenyans to sacrifice their income and ways of life to contain the pandemic, while at the same time holding super spreader public rallies.

We will not chance our way out of this pandemic or expect our so-called “development partners” to come to our rescue. It is high time we woke up to the fact that we are on our own.

-The writer is a professor at Georgetown University 

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