Covid-19 vaccine rollout off to slow start as hesitancy grows

Kakamega County Teaching and Referral hospital nursing officer Beverlyne Wambani (inject) injects the County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in charge of Health Dr Collins Matemba with AstraZeneca vaccine on March 12, 2021. [Photo/Nathan Ochunge/Standard]

The Covid-19 vaccine being rolled out in Kenya appears to be receiving a lukewarm reception from health workers, teachers and security personnel.

In Kakamega, for instance, only two people have received the Oxford-Astrezeneca vaccine as per the count last week. Among reasons for cold reception include misinformation, disinformation, religious beliefs and lack of opinion shapers like the president taking the lead. Medics argue that they have not been involved in the roll-out of the vaccine.

Though medics have no qualms receiving the jab, some say they have not been sensitised on its efficacy while side effects like blood clots that have been reported in other countries have further raised concern over safety.

Out of the 1.2 million vaccines only about 10,000 frontline workers representing 0.08 per cent of the total vaccines distributed to Kenya under the Covax plan, have been vaccinated according to the Ministry of Health. Out of the batch 100,000 vaccines were a donation from India.

Kenya lags behind countries like Rwanda in the roll-out plan. The Ministry of Health has so far distributed the vaccine to 40 counties in the last one week. Leading the pack is Nairobi with 2,020 vaccines, Uasin Gishu 1,304, Kisumu 764, Nakuru 562 and Kiambu 379.

The bottom five counties that are showing vaccine apathy include; Turkana with 24 people vaccinated so far, Isiolo 20, Murang’a 20, Nyandarua 18 and Kakamega two.

Following protocol

Kenyans are questioning the roll-out plan of the vaccine and failure by the top leadership in the country and the Ministry of Health to take the jab.

Geoffrey Mungaru from Nairobi County believes it's wise to receive the vaccine considering the impact of Covid-19 in the world but Wamalwa Odhiambo, 30, does not want to take the jab arguing that, “If our leaders are not taking the vaccine how can I take what I do not know. I will only change my mind when I am convinced about the vaccine.”

Their views are shared by a cross-section of Kenyans including a teacher in Turkana who said: “We will not receive that vaccine until the President is vaccinated. How can top leaders shy away from receiving the vaccine? Mutahi Kagwe should have been the first to be vaccinated.”

But speaking during the launch of the vaccine in Kitengela on March 4, the President explained that they are following protocol and will take the Jab when advised to.

“They will tell us and we shall lead by example. As per now mine is to give you the policy the details of how it shall be implemented is up to the professionals,” he said.

Rwanda, a country of more than 12 million people, has not only been providing a detailed report on vaccination roll-out, but the exercise is being led by President Paul Kagame who was vaccinated in public. More than 10,000 Rwandans are vaccinated daily compared to less than 10,000 vaccinations in a week in Kenya-which has a population of 50 million.

The Kenya Clinical Workers Union chair Peterson Wachira said the vaccine is safe and urged the public to go for it.  “Vaccine is a good thing and we encourage Kenyans to take it when their time comes. We understand that there are concerns about some of the vaccines and their effects as well as how fast they have been developed. The Ministry of Health has assured us of the effectiveness of the vaccines as well as the World Health Organisation.”

Dr Willis Akhwale, the Covid-19 taskforce advisory chair said the slow uptake in Kenya should not be cause for alarm as “our plan was never to compete with anyone in terms of numbers. Ours is to ensure access, quality, equity, freedom of choice, robust monitoring to make informed decisions and accountability.”

He noted that the pace of the vaccine roll-out is commendable as two days after the vaccines arrived “even the farthest county Mandera had got the vaccine.”

About 1.25 million people are expected to be vaccinated by June with two doses of the Oxford/Astrezeneca vaccine. 

 “We have identified 622 posts working with counties which will be open upon health workers being trained. Once over 600 facilities are working we will be able to vaccinate more people,” Dr Akhwale said.

Vaccine hesitancy seems to be a growing concern worldwide with misinformation making rounds on social media. As per a report from Sky News, religion has come into play sparking hesitancy in some nations.

In Kenya, the Catholic Doctors Association through chair Stephen Karanja urged Kenyans to avoid the Covid-19 vaccine “as it was unnecessary” and that the only known means of controlling the spread was through wearing masks, treatment of patients and ensuring all infected patients were observed for between 10 to 14 days.

But Catholic Bishops argued that the Catholic doctor’s position was not that of the church and vaccinated was ethical and clinically effective.   

Protect the weakest

Archbishop Philip Anyolo, chair of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops said: “In absence of other means to stop or even prevent the Covid-19 pandemic, the common good calls for vaccination, primarily to protect the weakest and most exposed.”

He added: “Those doctors cannot and should not purport to speak in the name of the Catholic Church.”  

Canada had stopped using the Oxford/Astrezeneca vaccine but have since.

Dr Akhwale urged the public to report of any severe side effects. “Go to your health care worker, fill a form and it will be transmitted to the pharmacy and poisonous board,” he said.