By HENRY OWINO
The arrival of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines consignment in Kenya gives citizen and government hopes of combating the deadly coronavirus. The plane carrying 1.02million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Nairobi at about 11:30pm East Africa Time.
The vaccines were transported by UNICEF as part of the COVAX facility, which aims to provide equitable access to vaccines for all countries around the world.
The vaccines arrived on Qatar Airways flight QR1341 and were received by various leaders led by Mutahi Kagwe, Cabinet Secretary for Health and his Transport counterpart James Macharia at the airport.
Maniza Zaman, UNICEF Representative to Kenya and Dr Rudi Eggers World Health organization (WHO) Representative among other leaders were part of the delegation.
“This is a historic day for Kenya, marking an important milestone in our fight against COVID-19. This has been made possible by the leadership of His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta and the hard work of the Ministry of Health,” Kagwe, said.
“I would like to thank UNICEF, WHO and GAVI for their support in procuring and transporting these life-saving vaccines and the Kenyan people for their cooperation over the past 11.5 months.” He added.
Kagwe was briefing a battery of journalists at the JKIA who were covering the historical event few minutes past Tuesday midnight. He explained the vaccines target frontline workers first because they are in close contact with COVID-19 cases.
He mentioned the entire health sector, security personnel, and teachers followed by other essential workers.
“We have approximately 400,000 healthcare-workers countrywide and they are the first group who will be vaccinated. Then the other frontline workers will follow in that category of priority groups as we have been advised by WHO,” Kagwe explained.
“We cannot vaccinate everyone at ones as the vaccines are not even enough for the world. It is going to be gradual until all of us shall be vaccinated,” he emphasized.
He said the vaccines will be moved from central vaccine store to nine regional vaccine stores, from where the counties will collect and distribute the vaccines to local hospitals at county and sub-county level.
The first vaccination sites will be one nominated vaccinating health facility per county, the national referral hospitals and select private health facilities.
“We are going to dispatch the vaccines to counties so that it does not appear to be Nairobi affair but a national exercise for all,” Kagwe affirmed.
CS Kagwe however, said the vaccination would be voluntary and nobody will be forced to take the jab. Commenting metaphorically on Kenya’s situation, the CS for Health said the country has been fighting the virus using rubber bullets but with the arrival of vaccines, it will be using machine guns, rifles, shotguns among other.
“We have been fighting the virus through social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, washing hands but now we have vaccines to protect us from the virus itself,” Kagwe said. This is a big step forward and we expect more to come so that we reach out to everyone for protection,” he emphasized.
He thanked team at Ministry of Health naming Dr Willis Akwale and Dr Patrick Amoth and others who played critical roles in ensuring the vaccines come to Kenya.