Kenya received its first batch of AstraZeneca – Oxford COVID-19 vaccines on February 2, 2021. A few days after the arrival, the 1.02 million doses are already facing rejection by the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association (KCDA).
The doctors expressed skepticism about the rollout of the vaccines in the country. They said that they believe vaccination against the coronavirus is unnecessary.
They are advising faith-based organisations to stop vaccine campaigns. They also recommend observing safety precautions such as wearing masks and quarantining patients for 10-14 days as reasonable defense measures against the virus.
The Catholic Church in Kenya, through Archbishop Anthony Muheria has however dismissed the KCDA’s claims, citing Pope Francis’ approval of the vaccine as evidence of its safety.
This declaration by the Catholic doctors will most likely pose a challenge to acceptance of the vaccine in the country.
There are an estimated 7.5 million baptized Catholics in Kenya and approximately 1 million who attend mass yet not baptised. This means that the church has an influence over 8.5 million Kenyans.
But this is not the first vaccine that the Catholic Church has opposed. The church has been very vocal discouraging its church members against various vaccines. Many of the church members were also eagerly waiting for the church’s directives.
Pope Francis vaccinated
Catholic bishops have however challenged the doctors’ position. According to the bishops, the vaccine is safe and has been accepted by the both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.The two received their first doses of the vaccine.
The bishops also said they would make the church’s health care facilities network available so the vaccine rollout could be well-coordinated.
This is however not the first vaccine that the Catholic Church has opposed. In October 2019, Catholic Church Bishops and Doctors strongly opposed the vaccination program against cervical cancer.
Dr. Wahome Ngare, a gynecologist from KCDA, warned the vaccine could lead to brain damage, seizures or paralysis, among other dangerous side effects.
In 2015, the Conference of Catholic Bishops and KCDA called for a boycott of polio vaccine. In their press statement, they said they needed to “test” whether ingredients contain a derivative of estrogen. Dr.Ngare further alleged that the presence of the female hormone could sterilize children.
In October 2014, the Catholic Church claimed that a tetanus vaccine can cause sterility in women. Priests told their congregations to boycott a campaign to vaccinate women against tetanus.
The Covid-19 vaccine was transported by UNICEF as part of the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access initiative (COVAX) programme. The COVAX programme is designed so that richer countries buying vaccines donate – either financially or with doses – so that poorer nations have access too.
Kenya is the fifth African country to receive the jabs through WHO-backed COVAX. Other countries that have so far received their doses are Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Angola.
The vaccine was manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and made available to the COVAX facility through an advance purchase agreement between Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and SII.
The consignment is part of an initial allocation of 3.56 million doses to Kenya. In addition, UNICEF is providing 1,025,000 syringes and 10,250 safety boxes to Kenya, through a global stockpile funded and supported by Gavi. However, Kenya already has enough in-country stocks of syringes and safety boxes for the first phase of vaccinations.
“With the arrival of these vaccines, UNICEF and partners are honouring the promise of the COVAX facility to ensure people from less wealthy countries are not left behind in the global roll out of life-saving vaccines,” UNICEF Representative to Kenya Maniza Zaman said.
The doses, according to scientific reports, are easy to handle and can be easily distributed. They only require temperatures of between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius which is the normal fridge temperature.
Dr Collins Tabu, head of the Division for Vaccines and Immunisation Programme, said the jabs were transported in special insulated boxes which are capable of maintaining the temperature of the doses to viable levels.
COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working in partnership with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, civil society organisations and manufacturers.
It has built a diverse portfolio of vaccines suitable for a range of settings and populations, and is on track to meet its goal of delivering at least 2 billion vaccine doses to participating countries around the globe in 2021, including at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 lower-income COVAX Facility participants supported by the Gavi COVAX AMC.
Who benefits first?
The vaccines were moved from the depot at JKIA to a central vaccine depot in Kitengela. From there, they were distributed to nine regional vaccine stores across the country. County officials then collected and distribute the vaccines to local hospitals at county and sub-county levels.
There is at least one vaccinating point per county, national referral hospitals and selected private health facilities.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) has developed a deployment plan for the vaccines. Healthcare workers and other essential workers including security personnel are the first priority.
“I can assure health workers and the Kenyan public that these vaccines are safe and effective. With this vaccination we will get much closer to ending this pandemic. However, while these vaccines are being rolled out, please let us continue the public health measures in place.” WHO Representative to Kenya Dr. Rudi Eggers said.
There are however people who will not receive the vaccine. Those under the age of 18, those who are allergic to chicken and eggs .Also pregnant women are advised not to take the vaccine.
According to Susan Mochache, the Health Principal Secretary, some patients who are allergic to chicken and eggs may develop an anaphylactoid reaction. This tends to involve a skin rash, shortness of breath and sometimes a drop in blood pressure after getting the vaccine.
Scientists are also skeptical about vaccinating pregnant women because not enough research and tests have been done to ascertain how they will react to it.
Some nurses, who are part of the first beneficiaries and will be vaccinating other people have expressed their fears. “There is total confusion and fear amongst health workers because they have been kept in the dark, yet they are the first recipients of the Covid-19 vaccine. Sensitization is nil, and because of that, there may be some level of resistance,” said Alfred Obengo, president of the National Nurses Association in a recent tweet.
The Government did not spend any money on the vaccines since they were delivered free of charge. However, Kenya will spend about Sh933.2 million for Phase I of the introduction of Covid-19 vaccines. A huge part of the money (Sh592.6million) will be used to store, distribute, clear, and procure vaccines and injection devices.
The government also intends to spend Sh70.8 million towards training and capacity building and Sh17.2 million for planning and coordination.
Sh232 million will go towards advocacy, communication, and community mobilisation initiatives while Sh20.6 million will be used for data management, monitoring, and surveillance.
It is now a matter of time before an analysis can be done on the impact of the challenges the vaccination process is currently facing.
What journalists should do?
- Follow up on how the vaccine is being distributed and inform your audience.
- Investigate if funds allocated for the vaccination process are spent according to intended purpose.
- Follow up on the acceptance of the vaccine. Find out if those who were initially against it will change their mind or not.
- Update your audience on the next phases of the vaccine in Kenya. When they arrive and how they are distributed.
- Talk to experts to explain in detail why some people are not eligible for the vaccine.
- Follow up on any reactions by those who have been vaccinated. What are the side effects and are there allergic reactions?