The Ministry of Health is in talks with the African Union (AU) with a view to acquiring the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.
This comes after J&J on Monday announced its intention to supply up to 220 million doses of its single-shot vaccine to the 55 AU member states as from the third quarter of this year.
“We are pursuing J&J and are talking to AU but there are no specifics at this point,” Kenya's Vaccine Advisory Task Force chairman Willis Akhwale disclosed.
The announcement by J&J this week was lauded by Dr John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We need to immunise at least 60 per cent of our population in order to get rid of the virus from our continent. The J&J agreement enables us to move towards achieving this target,” he said.
Last year, J&J, via its unit Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, entered into a deal with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (Avat) that would see the trust order an additional 180 million doses, hence a combined total of 400 million doses through 2022.
“The J&J option requires just a single dose, which makes it very good programmatically to roll out," Dr Nkengasong added.
Last year, however, GAVI vaccine alliance and J&J indicated they would enter into a deal to provide up to 500 million doses of the company's vaccine to Covax facility, the vaccine mechanism supported by World Health Organization (WHO), to aid developing countries.
In March this year, the J&J jab was approved in Europe, Bahrain, Canada and the US.
According to J&J, the vaccine was 66 per cent effective at preventing moderate to severe disease 28 days after vaccination, though the efficacy rate differed depending on geography.
The shot was 72 per cent effective among clinical-trial volunteers in the US but 66 per cent among those in Latin America, and just 57 per cent among those in South Africa.
Though markedly below the levels seen with the first two authorised Covid-19 vaccines, those rates are above the thresholds originally set by the US Food and Drug Administration for a vaccine to be considered useful.
The vaccine reduced severe disease by 85 per cent, and prevented Covid-related hospitalisation or death.
The big pharma has put in place a global manufacturing and supply network for the vaccine and is collaborating with nine partners across four continents.
A member of Kenya's vaccine advisory task force who sought anonymity confirmed to the Nation that negotiations to acquire J&J are underway.
"It is a matter of when but it will happen, the orders are still being put together but we are negotiating and will let you know how much they allocate us ," the member said.
The vaccine uses what is known as "viral vector" technology, which, according to experts, uses a harmless, inactivated cold virus to activate your body's immune response to Covid-19.
This means that, because it does not contain a live virus, you cannot get Covid-19 from the vaccine.
J&J does not require storage at freezing temperatures.
This may make the vaccine especially adaptable to reaching rural and vulnerable communities.
Dr Akhwale also revealed the task force plans to release more free vaccines across the country.
"If things go well I think we are going to saturate this place with free vaccines by July. Covax told us to wait on the second batch of 2.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine but we are also exploring other sources," the chair said.
While commenting on the controversy and mysteries around Sputnik V, which has made its way to into the country, Dr Akhwale said all the tough conditions given to the private entities must be met.
"WHO can be overwhelmed and have, say, 100 applications, so will you let your people die before WHO approves Sputnik V? We have simply told them to administer under certain conditions, if they contravene, they will not get commercial approval, and we called them and gave them a warning," he said.
On the pricing of Sputnik V, the Dr Akhwale told the Nation that loopholes in the law are to blame.
"For the private sector in Kenya, you cannot do price control. What is expected is that they just say we are offering Sputnik V here, when you go there it is between you and them but when more players come in the prices will go down," he explained.
The vaccine task force chairman however cautions that those who get inoculated with a vaccine that is not in the government’s digital Chanjo immunisation platform will not be recognised.
“If Sputnik meets the requirements it will be added. At the moment, the medical council is going to check out their facilities, among other conditions we gave them that they must meet. Same goes for any other new Covid-19 vaccine that will come into the country," he said.