World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists tasked to investigate the origin of coronavirus in China have discovered that the virus outbreak was wider in Wuhan city in December 2019 than it was thought earlier.
During their fact-finding mission in China, they established that dozen strains of the virus existed in Wuhan, sparking global debate over a new Covid-19 SARS-CoV-2 variant recently discovered in the UK, Brazil and South Africa.
Health experts have warned that these viruses mutate and are known to be more contagious and transmissible. There are no studies that have proved the variants have any impact on vaccines efficacy.
Remarkable progress has been made by global pharmaceutical giants towards developing Covid-19 vaccines. Last year, two leading vaccines Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have been approved and already administered across the world.
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This week on Monday, WHO approved AstraZeneca PLC’s vaccine for emergency use, paving way for vaccines shipments to the world’s poorest nations, many of which rely on Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative that seeks to ensure non-discriminatory access to vaccines.
According to WHO data, Kenya is among the 58 low-income countries that have applied for Covid-19 vaccines under the COVAX facility.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutai Kagwe said Kenya has procured 24 million doses of AstaraZeneca vaccine. However, a raft of measures is critical for a successful vaccine rollout programme.
First, with emergence of new Covid-19 variants, the government should urgently vaccinate more people vulnerable to coronavirus. Medical experts caution that new variants will alter its spike protein and may bypass vaccine-induced immunity, which might render it ineffective. With many Kenyans eligible for vaccination, the Health ministry must come up with a national plan supported by a vaccine rollout strategy that guides on who should be priority.
The government should develop a highly secure centralised computer infrastructure that collects, reports and stores data especially on vaccine distribution processes and its performance on administered patients across the country at the national and community level. This will enable the government monitor progress and success of the vaccine rollout.
Still, we should emphasise the need for strict adherence of public health measures, such as continued wearing of masks, social distancing, and avoiding public gatherings until majority of Kenyans have been vaccinated. This will help reduce chances of virus transmission, increased hospitalisation and even deaths because the less the virus spread, the less it’s going to mutate. To curb the import of new variants, stringent borders surveillance must be enforced. The government must ensure everyone arriving here must show proof of negative Covid-19 test taken 72 hours before travel.
Relaxing public health measures at a time when vaccine rollout is about to begin, could reverse back the positive trends we have witnessed lately. While there was no indication to show new variants were more deadly, there were concerns that their faster spread could overwhelm healthcare systems that are already strained with shortage of ICU beds, ventilators and enough health personnel.
Many people will resume a more normal life routine amid the new Covid-19 variants if the government lifts the night curfew next month. Maybe this is not the right time to lift the curfew until the vaccine has been administered.
Further, effective coordination and strengthening cross-borders surveillance between national and county governments, will help defeat the outbreak of new variants. The ministry should map out all the 47 counties and identify high, medium and low risk areas in order to close loopholes that could allow people to evade government strict border measures.
-The writer comments on topical issues.