At a glance, the announcement by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe that only people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to travel or receive government services appears noble.
Kenya is among countries that failed to meet the target of fully vaccinating at least 10 per cent of the population by the end of September, set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The need to increase vaccine coverage is, therefore, real and urgent if the country is to achieve a reasonable level of protection against the deadly coronavirus.
However, while it is well-intended, the directive is likely to run into legal headwinds. The Constitution does not countenance a policy compelling a section of citizens to take a medical procedure as a condition for enjoyment of government services.
The government is well advised to take a different route to achieve its objective of increasing vaccine uptake. First is to understand why many Kenyans have failed to take the vaccine. Some are opposed to the jab while others are indifferent to it altogether.
The reasons for opposition to the Covid-19 vaccination range from religious beliefs to fear of injections and even personal conscience. Everybody has a right to their position, however mistaken or misadvised they could be.
The best way to get them to change their mind is persuasion, not force. When the authorities appear to make vaccination compulsory, that only raises the suspicion against inoculation, clawing back on the progress made in the important public health campaign.
A better approach towards this would be to enhance education among Kenyans on how the vaccines work to protect individuals against Covid-19.
The government should increase public awareness of vaccination to persuade Kenyans to willingly go for the jab and assuage the fears that may be inherent among those who don’t understand exactly what the vaccination drive is all about.
That way, conspiracy theories and myths about vaccines will be debunked and the vaccine uptake increased.