Covid vaccines key as fifth wave looms, experts say

Shem Otoi Sam

Dr Shem Otoi Sam, a member of the LREB advisory committee and an infectious diseases modelling expert.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • More vaccinations will mean a mild wave that will reduce the projected deaths to below 1,000.
  • The highest peak of deaths was in the third wave, when 40 people died per day.

The severity of the Covid-19 fifth wave, projected to peak in late November, will depend on the uptake of vaccinations, health experts have warned.

If more people are vaccinated, they say, the wave will not be felt but if infections rise, hospitals and mortuaries will be overwhelmed.

“Can you imagine having more than 35,000 people who are severely unwell? We don’t even have the capacity to handle the number,” says Dr Shem Sam Otoi, the Covid-19 programmes coordinator for the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB).

Dr Otoi’s latest scientific projections on the fifth wave show that if the peak becomes severe, about 3,000 people will succumb to the virus.

More vaccinations will mean a mild wave that will reduce the projected deaths to below 1,000.

Kenya has recorded four waves with over 6,000 deaths. The highest peak of deaths was in the third wave, when 40 people died per day.

Two weeks before the fifth wave is projected to hit, only about one million people have been fully vaccinated.

As of October 10, about four million doses of various vaccines had been administered, with three million people partially vaccinated and over one million fully vaccinated.

Vaccination uptake

The uptake of the second dose was at 32 per cent. The proportion of adults fully vaccinated was 3.9 per cent, with the government planning to vaccinate a targeted population of over 27 million.

“We still need to do more as far as vaccination is concerned. We are below the percentage compared to other countries. As it is, depending on the severity of the wave, we will be knocked,” Dr Otoi says.

“The determinant of the fifth wave lies in the vaccination uptake. If 51 per cent of Kenyans are fully vaccinated, even if we have waves, they will be very low and we will even fail to notice them. Vaccination reduces the intensity of waves,” he said.

The current positivity rate of 2.2 per cent means that the number of positive cases has dropped from 1,000 per day to an average of 300. There are less than 100 patients per day in intensive care, with deaths dropping to zero on some days.

If this trend continues for the next 14 days, under World Health Organization guidelines, Kenya will have flattened the curve.

“This is the best time to go for vaccination, but the problem with Kenyans is that if the numbers go down, they relax and forget the measures and pick this up when the country is overwhelmed,” said Covid-19 vaccine deployment task force chairman Willis Akhwale.

“We need to get vaccinated now so that incase of any attack, we are not shaken.”

The projection also identified Western Kenya and Nyanza counties as likely to be the most affected by the fifth wave, given their populations and the low vaccination rates.

Unvaccinated adults

In the LREB region, 8,003,755 adults are eligible for vaccination. Of these, only about 180,000 have been fully vaccinated, accounting for 2.4 per cent.

The modelling study shows that unvaccinated adults are more likely to succumb to Covid-19.

Dr Akhwale said vaccine apathy is likely to have an impact when the fifth wave strikes.

“We are doing what we can to push people to (be vaccinated) as a way to help more people. We just have to get the jab because they are available. Protect your loved ones and Kenyans by being responsible,” he said

Studies around the world have found that vaccination reduces the risk of severe Covid-19 management outcomes. The incidence of hospitalisation and mortality is greatly reduced by vaccination. For instance, recent studies in two localities in the US found that mortality rates dropped substantially.

Prof Omu Anzala, a virologist and immunologist in the Department of Medical Microbiology at the Nairobi University, says vaccine hesitancy is a big issue.

He suggests adopting even “legal interventions where you direct people to have the jab or introducing Covid-19 certification or even giving financial incentives provided they take the vaccine”.

Prof Matilu Mwau, an infectious disease researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, says Kenyans should realise that a surge is going to occur from time to time as long as the pandemic is still with us, and vaccination is key to avoiding infection.