The Health ministry will only consider Covid-19 vaccine booster shots in January next year, as the focus now shifts to vaccinating vulnerable older people, who turned out for jabs in low numbers.
National Covid-19 vaccines task force chair Dr Willis Akhwale explained to the Nation Monday that January will mark six months since most Kenyans received their second doses.
About 9.0 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. Though the elderly are most at risk, only 18 per cent of them have been fully vaccinated.
“Our focus now is to have many people, especially the elderly, get vaccinated. The more people vaccinated - even if it is a partial vaccination, just the first dose - the safer it is for everyone else,” Dr Akhwale said.
“We are going to ramp up our outreach, and starting this Friday, we will try to go closer to where the old people are.”
While Kenya is not inclined to give Covid-19 vaccine booster shots just yet, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stretched out eligibility to all adults. Previously, only people above the age of 65 could get them.
“Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defences against the virus as we enter the winter holidays,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
“Based on the compelling evidence, all adults over 18 should now have equitable access to a Covid-19 booster dose.”
The Kenyan government has received about 10.7 million vaccines and intends to vaccinate an equal number of people by the end of the year.
Dr Akhwale said more doses are expected to come in.
“Vaccine supply is not an issue. There has actually been an improvement in supply and we expect eight million more doses by the end of the year,” he said.
“We are assured of getting about 1.6 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines by December 1. We just need people to get the vaccines because we have them and there is no shortage.”
Even if officials approve booster shots next year, Dr Akhwale said, the elderly will be at the top of the priority list.
About 6.3 million vaccine doses have been administered.
“Our goal is to vaccinate 26 million people by the end of next year. We will get there, people just need to show up at the vaccination sites to get some form of protection because Covid-19 is still here with us,” he said.
Following Monday’s directive from Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe that people will have to show proof of vaccination to get government service, Dr Akhwale issued a clarification.
“We need to be clear on that directive: it is only in-person services that may not be offered if you are not vaccinated. You can still get services virtually or send a representative,” he said.
“But we encourage people to be vaccinated. We are luring anyone. We want to interpret that while staying within the law.”