Fresh hurdles in vaccine drive as workers protest

Dr.Willis Akhwale

The National Taskforce on vaccine deployment Chair Dr. Willis Akhwale. Health staff say they are demoralised by unpaid allowances after working so hard to increase uptake in vaccine drive.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The Covid-19 vaccination campaign is facing fresh hurdles after some health workers went on a go-slow over unpaid allowances.

Investigations by the Nation have revealed that some nurses deployed to administer vaccines outside health facilities have been either skipping work or reporting late.

Spot checks on estates, religious institutions, bus stops, community centres, social halls and other temporary vaccination centres in Nairobi, Kiambu, Kakamega and parts of Nyanza from last week revealed that some stations were barely active.

On Monday morning, the vaccination site on Kimathi estate in Bahati, Nairobi, was left unattended, with hundreds of residents who had queued since 8am receiving the jab from 11am.

By this time, many heading to work had already left, raising fears of the Health ministry missing its targets again. Kenya seeks to jab at least 19 million people by the end of June even after missing its initial goal of fully vaccinating 10 million by the end of last year.

“We have been waiting in line since 7am, but there has been not a single health official around to administer the vaccine,” said Ms Mumbi Mutuko, 28, a journalist who until yesterday had yet to be vaccinated.

“And this is not the first time because last Friday when I came, they stopped vaccinating people at 11am despite the fact that they had started late at around 9am.”

A nurse in Kakamega County disclosed that they started the silent protest after failing to receive their allowances for months.

“We are very demoralised. We have been working so hard to increase uptake, but the people at the top do not see it,” she said on condition of anonymity, fearing victimisation.

The health workers were to paid perks according to their job grades and those who spoke to the Nation said they had not received a penny since they were deployed outside their work stations to ramp up vaccination.

However, Ms Trizah Karanja, the Kenya Progressive Nurses Association national secretary, said the protesting nurses had not raised their grievances officially.

“The cases may be isolated but I can tell you that of course there has been talk and collective feelings on the issue of allowances for quite some time,” she said.

Chairman Michael Nyongesa, terming the allowances “fringe benefits”, said there was no go-slow. “Immunisation is part of our regular services and the allowances are just part of fringe benefits which depend on who is funding and delays are there."

For his part, Dr Willis Akhwale, the National Taskforce on Vaccine Deployment chairperson, said outstanding allowances would be paid soon. “The MoH has reworked its strategy to boost vaccine uptake by intensifying partnerships with county governments and settling all outstanding allowances of health workers. We will also be using influencers and radio stations to talk about the vaccine,” he said.

He spoke during the virtual launch of a paid partnership between Kenyan sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala and Aids Healthcare Foundation in a deal to support Covid-19 vaccination efforts in Kenya and Africa.

“This is important to me as an athlete and community leader as vaccine distribution is very important; vaccines save lives,” Mr Omanyala said.

Partnership deal

Meanwhile, the booster shots to be received will depend on availability of vaccines, Dr Akhwale said. “We are going with a third dose of your primary series, but because data shows that a combination of viral vector plus mRNA is much better, you can get that but it depends on availability,” he told the forum.

Recently, scientists found that the best antibody protection against the Omicron variant is from a two-dose series of mRNA vaccines, either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, followed by an mRNA booster.

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