Vaccines shortage: What is at stake?

The government has come under pressure to address vaccine shortages in public health facilities.

What you need to know:

  • Reports show that the ministry last procured the DTP vaccine 10 months ago.
  • BCG vaccine, which is given to prevent tuberculosis, has not been procured in eight months.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) is facing mounting pressure to address acute vaccine shortages impacting public health facilities nationwide.

In a letter dated May 16 addressed to Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha, the Council of Governors (CoG) raised the alarm over stockouts of essential vaccines in the 47 counties for the past three months.

CoG chairperson and Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru decried the lack of essential vaccines and urged the ministry to respond in earnest.

“Vaccines play a pivotal role in healthcare by effectively preventing vaccine-preventable diseases. Their provision not only reduces mortality rates but also safeguards vulnerable populations, minimises healthcare expenditures, and contributes significantly to the overall well-being of citizens,” reads part of the letter seen by the Nation.

The governors pointed out shortages of essential vaccines routinely administered to newborns and children under five, including polio (OPV & IPV), BCG (for tuberculosis), MR (measles rubella), rotavirus and tetanus diphtheria vaccines.

Reports show that the ministry last procured the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertus) vaccine 10 months ago. The BCG vaccine, which is given to prevent tuberculosis, has not been procured in eight months.


If you look at the lower part of your arm, you bear a distinct scar as a result of the BCG vaccine. It is a requirement that all children born in Kenya receive the vaccine immediately after birth as per the Kenya Expanded Programme Immunisation (Kepi) schedule.

BCG is also on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of essential jabs. This is because Kenya is among the countries ranked by WHO as having a high TB burden. The vaccine, WHO says, also protects babies from the rarer severe forms of TB.

Rotavirus vaccine (Rotarix)

Administered between weeks six and 10, WHO recommends that this vaccine be prioritised in sub-Saharan African countries such as Kenya. Without it, children are vulnerable to rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhoea among children below five years.


The first dose is administered at birth or within the first two weeks. This is to protect newborns against polio, a virus that can cause paralysis. In January, MoH reported 14 cases of polio found in stool collected from children in Garissa County.


This vaccine is offered in two doses: one administered at nine months and the second at 18 months. It helps to protect against measles and rubella, which are highly infectious and can cause eye infections, rashes, respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and death. Measles remains a threat in Kenya, with 295 cases reported in Turkana West in July last year.


In Kenya, children receive this vaccine to protect them from tetanus and diphtheria. Tetanus causes muscle stiffness and can be fatal, while diphtheria affects the throat and can cause breathing problems, heart failure, and paralysis.

Acknowledging the shortage, MoH has said that it has adopted a multi-pronged approach to combat it.

“As an urgent stopgap measure, the Ministry of Health, through the National Vaccines and Immunisation Program (NVIP) has been working to redistribute current stocks... so that eligible children do not miss vaccination during this critical period,” read a statement from the ministry.

It added that it has allocated Sh250 million to expedite the procurement of routine antigens and restock critical vaccines. Further, it has fast-tracked the shipment of vaccines that are expected in Kenya by the first week of June.