The country is needlessly being distracted from its crucial focus on fighting the third deadly wave of the coronavirus epidemic. The raging controversy over vaccine imports is uncalled for. What the health authorities should be preoccupied with is enhancing access to these life-saving drugs.
Right now, the priority should be ensuring a significant proportion of the Kenyan population gets inoculated to curb the rapidly rising infections. The enormity of the health crisis is evident in the rise in the country’s positivity rate from 2.6 per cent in January to 19.1 per cent on April 2 and even higher than 20 per cent on some days last month.
Since the rollout of the drive early last month, two vaccines have featured prominently. One is the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been acquired by the government for the public hospitals and dispensaries from the global Covax initiative. The focus has been on getting frontline workers vaccinated first after the arrival of a million doses. More than 160,000 people have been given the jabs free of charge.
The second is the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which has been available in some private health facilities at a cost. The question the health authorities need to address is if it is appropriate, safe and helpful in the fight against Covid-19 for the private sector to procure it to complement government efforts. There has been controversy over some imported doses of the Russian vaccine.
This has prompted the government to stop Covid-19 vaccine imports by private companies. If, as Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe says, the shipments were unlicensed and, therefore, the quality cannot be guaranteed, they must be stopped.
Any private shipments must comply with the required health standards. After the ban, and looking into the future, the government should be more concerned with regulating the supplies to ensure vaccines are of the right quality and administered at a price that is not exploitative. It should come up with guidelines for the importers in order to safeguard the lives of those being inoculated.