Kenya may take longer to secure a Covid-19 vaccine because the drug authorities ordered is no longer guaranteed due to a European Union blockade.
An official of the 11-member Covid-19 advisory taskforce at the Ministry of Health disclosed on Thursday the EU threat to restrict export of Covid-19 vaccines has immensely affected their plans.
The official explained given the development, they are considering other options than the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the EU is now protective of outraged at the slow rollout of immunisation within the bloc.
“The target was to have vaccines in the country by end of February or early March but now we are open to any vaccine with an emergency use listing (EUL),” a member of the taskforce who sought anonymity told Nation in an exclusive interview.
Questions also emerged about how much authorities have allocated for buying the vaccines after the official said the team had requested government to provide an extra Sh1 billion.
“We have asked government for Sh1 billion and are waiting for it to be approved because we are now not only looking to buy the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.
The official spoke a day after Health Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi told Nation that Kenya had secured Sh43 billion for the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines at Sh770 per dose.
She said the country has raised Sh19.7 billion through Gavi-Covax, a global collaboration that aims at ensuring coronavirus vaccines are accessible to the needy.
Dr Mwangangi said the balance of Sh23 billion would be sourced from a World Bank credit line and exchequer financing in an arrangement expected to cover 40 percent of Kenya’s population.
Ideally the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine is most suitable for Kenya because of ease of storage.
“The ministry and the Kenya Medical Research Institute are carrying out tests. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in an ordinary fridge, unlike the Pfizer one, which has to be kept in extremely cold temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius,” Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said last December.
At the time, Mr Kagwe had announced that Kenya had ordered 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
He added that the government was also exploring ways of partnering with other vaccine makers like China that have developed Covid-19 jabs.
The EU’s Health commissioner Stella Kyriakides on Monday attended two tense negotiations with representatives of the vaccine maker, AstraZeneca, after which the commissioner said ‘insufficient explanations’ were provided.
“EU member states are united, vaccine developers have societal and contractual responsibilities they need to uphold,” she insisted.
This comes after AstraZeneca infuriated EU officials last week when it announced that its initial delivery volumes of her Covid-19 vaccine developed in partnership with U.K.'s Oxford University would be lower than expected citing manufacturing issues in Europe.
The big pharma did not however say how much lower the volumes would be.
A week earlier Pfizer-BioNTech had announced that there will be a temporary reduction in its vaccine deliveries to the bloc also without stating the size of the cuts.
But it reassured it would resume its delivery schedule to EU.
Pfizer and AstraZeneca have their manufacturing plants in Europe.
Commissioner Kyriakides said the E.U. intends to take any action required to protect its citizens and its rights.’
"In the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the E.U. will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries,” she said without going into detail of how future restrictions would work.
MoH also revealed that it is still in talks with the African Union (AU) as it finalises Kenya’s vaccine road map.
“We have been engaging AU because so much is happening but the plan is almost ready. We are just streamlining a few things before we hand it over to the CS,” the official said.
Last year Gavi chief executive officer Seth Berkely announced that 92 developing countries, including Kenya, were set to receive vaccines through Covax early this year.
Covax had exclusively signed agreements with nine different candidates but the Oxford drug was expected to reach developing countries first due to its existing infrastructure.
"Access to safe and efficacious Covid-19 vaccines for the most vulnerable groups everywhere in the world is the only way to bring the acute stage of this pandemic under control,” Dr Berkley said in an official statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) last November urged African countries to come up with systems to carry out Covid-19 vaccinations efficiently when the doses become available.
This was after its analysis of country self-reports showed Africa had an average score of 33 percent readiness for a Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, which is well below the desired benchmark of 80 percent.
“An 80 percent weightage shows a country can safely deploy a vaccine with maximum safety while the current 33 percent weightage for Africa means that countries need to bring up the areas of immunisations that are still lagging behind,” said Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO’s Program Area Manager, Immunisation and Vaccine Development.