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End confusion over Covid-19 inoculation

By Julie Masiga | April 5th 2021
Man receiving the Covud-19 vaccine.

Kenya’s civil service is a very efficient machine. Civil servants know how to get the job done. If they didn’t know what to do and when to do it, nothing in this country would work and so many things that we take for granted would fall apart. The administrative wing of government runs quietly, and often inefficiently, but it runs. If it didn’t, nothing else would.

However, if you’re an ordinary Kenyan, you are probably more accustomed to the inefficient side of the civil service. But I’m here to tell you that there are sections within the government administration that provide excellent service.

Take for example the department within the Ministry of Health (MoH) that has been responsible for successive polio vaccine campaigns.

As the mother of a young child, I have personal experience with the efficiency of the polio eradication infrastructure. Health workers assigned to the polio beat work with speed and precision. They go from house to house to inoculate children, and mark doors with chalk to ensure they don’t cover the same house twice. Two by two they come, climbing stairs, knocking on doors, and being extremely courteous as they go about their business. Hey, it might not be the most advanced system, but it works.

My daughter was inoculated more than once in 2014 and 2015. At one point I even began to get irritated at the frequency of the health workers’ visits. They didn’t seem to know why they were giving repeated doses, or indeed how many doses were needed for the child to be sufficiently protected.

And at that point, she had already received the polio vaccine several times as part of her standard vaccination schedule. When probed, all they would say was that they were doing as instructed.

So the campaign itself was a success, but the communication around it could have been better. Still, at the end of it all, I was confident that my child had received enough of the vaccine to be sufficiently protected from polio, albeit from a layman’s perspective. And I was very impressed with the campaign infrastructure.

Which is why I scratch my head whenever I think about the Covid-19 vaccine rollout. It’s as discombobulated as they come. Nothing seems to be working well, whether you’re talking implementation or communication.

From what I have seen, if you know someone who knows someone then you’re likely to get the jab even before the medics on the frontline. But if you don’t, and you’re not on a list, then you’ll find yourself hopping from one vaccination site to the other where you’ll become accustomed to hearing that the vaccine has run out for the day, or even that there is a shortage of syringes. If not that, then the lines will be as long and tiring as a math exam.

You’ll endure all this as you hear whispers of ‘vaccine parties’ where guests can buy the government-issue jab for 3,000 bob – that’s three thousand shillings more than free, which is what MoH promised.

And then of course there’s the other vaccine which was retailing at three times as much. The one that was banned after it landed, as if the ministry was not aware of the process all along.

End of the day, the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in these parts has been marred by the kind of confusion that you have bad dreams about. And yet, Kenya has a polio eradication infrastructure that worked perfectly when it was deployed.

More than that, newborns and children up to the age of two are vaccinated daily in this country. They get their shots at either public or private clinics in a process that has some bottlenecks but is otherwise pretty efficient.

So why exactly are we having trouble with the Covid-19 vaccine? What is the problem, exactly? Because I know for sure that a proper rollout can happen. I’ve seen it happen before.

Let’s just hope it’s not the same greed that has darkened the hearts of some of our compatriots in the past. Because it is one thing to play games with commodities like sugar and maize, but it’s quite another to profit off imminent death. Y’know, for some people the new coronavirus is a matter of life and death, and for others it’s a matter of shillings and cents, which is unfortunate.

Whatever it is that’s happening with the rollout of the vaccine, the MoH needs to fix it, and fix it quick. It’s about time that we internalised, as a government and as a people, that life means more than money.

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security editor, The Conversation 

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