Vaccine distribution inequalities and their effects on Kenyans

The Covid-19 has been with us for over a year, since the first case was reported in the country in the first quarter of 2020. Even though members of the public still have to adhere to the various measures put in place to control, the spread of the virus – that is keeping a safe social distance from other people while outdoors, regularly washing hands with soap or sanitizer, avoiding hand greetings, staying at home if need be, and wearing a mask to cover the nose and mouth – the Ministry of Health has for months now been consistently urging people to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

Getting the vaccine is a good call, a necessary step in addition to other measures put in place to help curb the spread of the virus. Only that some people have now become skeptical, and even discouraged and disappointed, going by the unfortunate experiences they’d to go through in their efforts to get the vaccine administered to them.

(TOP: A security officer gets the Covid-19 vaccine during the UNICEF vaccination launch. Photo: UNICEF). 

Since the Covid-19 vaccination exercise began, after the Kenyan government received around 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses through Covax, a World Health Organization-backed global vaccine distribution effort, and began administering them free of charge last month, there have been allegations of lack of transparency in the whole process. There have also been accusations doing the rounds that more affluent members of the population (and neighborhoods) are getting first priority when it comes to getting the vaccine.

In an April 2021 article for example, the Washington Post highlighted the story of two Ngong-based schoolteachers who had been informed that the vaccine was being administered on a ‘first come, first served’ basis and had therefore decided go get up in the morning and wait in front of the hospital from as early as 5 a.m. only that they’re not so lucky.

Around noon, still at the hospital with no vaccine administered, a nurse appeared at the hospital’s gate and said the doses were had run out.

“A crowd gathered. Some said they had seen the nurses sneaking in people through a back door, the teachers recalled later… Amid the ensuing shouts from the crowd were denunciations of a more insidious plague here in Kenya: public services that work for those with connections and money and relegate everyone else to the back of the line,” notes the article.

Adding more credence to the accusations of lack of transparency as well as allegations that priority was being accorded to more affluent members of the population was the March 2021 deployment of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to private health facilities, with news reports noting that Nairobi’s large UN staff and diplomatic corps were being offered Covax vaccinations by the government, while the general population was unable to access the vaccines.

The Sputnik V vaccine, which is not approved by the WHO, was controversially granted emergency-use authorization in Kenya, though health officials had to try to save face by attempting to explain how private medical care facilities which administer doses to prominent personalities fell under emergency provisions.

“Those seeking free vaccinations in wealthier parts of Nairobi have also simply found it easier to stroll into a hospital and get a shot without waiting in line,” adds the article.

The issue of vaccine inequality is however not unique to Kenya. In April this year, the WHO noted that the unequal distribution of vaccines is not only “a moral outrage, but economically and epidemiologically self-defeating.”

“Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said at a meeting in April. “And we are failing.”

Ghebreyesus told the meeting that of the 832 million vaccine doses which had been administered by then, 82 per cent had gone to high- or upper‑middle-income countries, while only 0.2 per cent had been sent to low-income countries. In high‑income countries, 1 in 4 people had been vaccinated, a ratio that drops precipitously to 1 in 500 in poorer countries.

Early this month, Kenya received 182,400 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, a donation from France to the COVAX facility with logistics support provided by UNICEF.

Emphasizing the need for equity and equal access to the vaccines, UNICEF Representative to Kenya Maniza Zaman said: “Vaccine equity is essential if we are to ensure that everyone at risk from COVID-19 gets vaccinated, wherever they live. In some high-income countries, young people are now being vaccinated, while in Africa, many health workers, teachers and elderly people are still unprotected. We have to keep working to make the issue of vaccine availability and access much fairer than it is currently.”

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