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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Kenya's vaccine roll out is a disaster so far, how do we fix it?

The COVID-19 vaccine roll-out so far has been a disaster and betrays the excellent framework adopted in the Health Ministry National Plan. How is it possible that such an important exercise has flopped in the first few weeks despite comparative international experiences and a five-month lead time to this moment? What do we need to put in place to recover the moment and proceed effectively?

Two weeks ago, this column profiled the National Distribution Plan. I made a public case for an orderly public health led approach to universal vaccination targeting the most vulnerable first. The last fourteen days have been an example of how not to implement a national plan by citizens, state and corporate agencies.

The three phased approach of frontline health-workers, police-officers and other state officers, those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly and then those in poor and informal settlements lies in tatters. Parliamentarians, captains of business and other members of the one per cent gleefully getting jabs have flooded social media.

Once again, those we elected have been able to create an argument to be protected before the public they are supposed to serve. Rather than demand the Health Ministry create a public health awareness strategy to ensure those most at risk are inoculated, the sterile self-interested argument now prevails, “let us get the jabs first, others will be inspired to follow.”

The Hindu Council announced their community needed the vaccine most. They even asked MP Shah - a national hospital, last time I looked - to specifically provide it for Kenyan Asians. The Kenyan Foreign Affairs Ministry generously offered the limited vaccine supplies to diplomats even though they come from nations currently hoarding the world’s supplies and could supply their own nationals if they so choose.

Then the crowds started showing up at Mbagathi Hospital and other health facilities. Parents, their children, office colleagues, the healthy and the young compete to jump ahead of health-workers, police-officers, those with co-morbidity conditions and the elderly who form 60 per cent of the deaths in our country to date.

Rather than hiding their age for a change, it became cool for those in their fifties to increase their age as the minimum age of 55, 58 or 60 years became less clear. Under these conditions, we can safely assume that the older virus – bribery – spiked and money changed hands for a vaccine that is already free.

Why the Health Ministry lost control of such an important moment needs investigation. If my tone is sharper than usual this week, consider this. Wife, mother and social justice activist, Lorna Irungu died this week from COVID-19 related complications. Her 20-year-old victory over Lupus is an inspiration to millions. Vaccine queue jumping directly threatens others like Lorna, the young Doctor Stephen Mogusu and others. It must stop.

Just over half a billion doses have been administered globally. Just five nations, the United States, China, India, United Kingdom and Brasil are responsible for three fifths of the doses. Israel started their national vaccination as far back as 20 December. By vaccinating as many as 230,000 people daily, this nation saw reduced infections within three weeks.

Barely three months old, the Biden/Harris administration has vaccinated twice the population of Kenya already. Daily infection rates for confirmed corona virus cases have fallen from 250,000 to about 75,000.

Measured against this, with only 90,000 jabs, Kenya is still only taking baby steps. As the Health Ministry catches its balance and enforces the National Plan, it is worth offering some humble observations. The roll out seems so pedestrian in this digital age.

Must the list of health facilities be shared in a PDF? Must we require people to join long queues to see whether they will be inoculated or not? Perhaps the Health Ministry could invest in a website that allows us to find our closest centre and register for the first available slot on a first come first serve basis.

If we are to decisively crush the COVID-19 virus, we must all be vaccinated. We must caution the fearful from panicking and jumping the queue. By focussing on their senior citizens, the United States was able to reduce emergency cases by 80 per cent. There is science behind phasing. I am ready to be vaccinated but I am not willing to jump the queue.

This opinion was first published in the Saturday Standard 27 March 2021


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