Kenya Mandates COVID-19 Vaccines for Civil Servants as Africa’s Vaccine Rollout Gathers Speed
Teachers aged 50 years and above were the first to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Kenya, but now all civil servants are compelled to get vaccinated.

The Kenyan government’s decision to compel its workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 has received the support of Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

“I support policies that get citizens of Africa to go out there and get vaccinated whenever they have an opportunity to have access to vaccines. They’re saving themselves, their loved ones and protecting their community and country,” Nkengasong told a media briefing this week. 

Kenya’s Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua, told the briefing that COVID-19 vaccination has become mandatory for civil servants in the country. They have until 23 August to get vaccinated and may face disciplinary action if they fail to do so.

“It was observed that some public servants have deliberately avoided being vaccinated so that they can stay from work under the disguise of working from home. This has negatively affected service delivery to the public,” Kinyua said.

Nkengasong described COVID-19 vaccination as a best shot at ending the pandemic on the continent. He noted that vaccines have been instrumental in eradicating smallpox and in tackling other diseases too.

“The right behavior is to go out there, get the vaccine whenever you have access to vaccines. We don’t even want to get to a point where the government is requiring that you get vaccinated,” he added.

Huge increase in COVID cases in Ethiopia 

Africa is still on the crest of its third COVID-19 wave, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). This week, the continent surpassed seven million confirmed cases with numbers still rising.

“Weekly COVID-related deaths also reached another record peak this week, with nearly 6,600 deaths reported. Vigilance remains crucial,” WHO stated.

In the past week, cases have increased in several African countries including Ethiopia where there has been a 62% average increase in new cases, Nigeria (56% increase), Kenya (30% ) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (6%).

New deaths also increased by an average of 108% in Nigeria, 56% 30% in Kenya and 6% in DRC.

Tanzanian and US officials celebrate the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines in the country last month as, part of a donation from the US.

Africa CDC and the WHO have described COVID-19 vaccination roll-out as the largest vaccination exercise ever conducted on the continent. 

After a long pause owing to delays in shipments of Covishield from the Serum Institute of India, African countries are starting to receive Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccines, which are being filled and finished by Aspen, the South African pharmaceutical company. 

The African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) is facilitating these vaccines, and 10 African countries have received their first J&J vaccine deliveries although only 1.5 million doses have been delivered. 

Egypt received the largest shipment (261,000 doses), while Angola (165,000 doses), Ghana (177,600), Tunisia (108,000), Cameroon (158,000), Mauritius (108,000), Togo (117,600), Lesotho (108,000), Botswana (108,000) and Nigeria (177,000) also received deliveries. 

The doses are part of a total of 400 million doses agreed to by the African Union, AVAT and Johnson & Johnson.

A total of 23 African countries have also received their US government dose donations which totals 9,244,000 doses. Ethiopia got the largest shipment of J&J vaccine doses, receiving 1.6 million doses followed by Tanzania (one million). 

Three African countries received US-donated Pfizer doses: South Africa (9.2 million doses), Rwanda (300,000 doses) and Botswana (81,000 doses). 

WHO recently announced that, in spite of the delays, COVAX still aims to deliver 520 million doses to Africa by the end of 2021. 

“Almost 90 million of these doses have now been allocated to African countries and will be delivered by the end of September,” WHO stated.

However, the facility still relies on vaccine donations from countries with abundant doses. Canada announced on Thursday that it would be donating 10 million doses of J&J vaccine to COVAX.

Addressing a joint press event, Canada’s minister for international development, Karina Gould, and the country’s procurement minister, Anita Anand, disclosed the donation is from Canada’s advance purchase agreement with the vaccine manufacturer. However, Canada has yet to deliver on previous promises to donate doses  .

COVAX has also had to expand its bouquet of vaccines. On Wednesday, it delivered the first tranche of six million doses of Sinopharm vaccines to Pakistan.

In late March, Health Policy Watch reported that the Nigerian government was pivoting to J&J vaccine for its COVID vaccination plans. Although the country’s health authorities still maintain additional doses of Covishield will soon be available in the country for citizens that got the first dose but are yet to receive the second dose, Nkengasong revealed that Covishield doses are not expected anytime soon in Africa.

“Doses of Covishield are not expected anytime soon. What we are having now are J&J vaccine doses,” Nkengasong said.

John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Test for vaccine hesitancy

As more vaccine doses become available, this is expected to uncover the level of vaccine hesitancy in Africa. 

However, Nkengasong expressed confidence COVID vaccine uptake improving in Africa as more doses become available on the continent. 

“Vaccine hesitancy is not static at all,” he said. “We have seen countries where initially there was a lot of resistance, and then, as campaigns were made and information sessions were organized, the situation changed.”

He noted that in Ivory Coast, during the early days of the vaccination exercise, few people turned up for vaccination. But with the government and the Ministry of Health conducting awareness campaigns, the vaccines were gone in no time. Initially, uptake in Senegal was slow but the country is now they are doing about 50,000 vaccinations a day. 

Image Credits: Wish FM Radio, Africa CDC.

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