Concern after Covid-19 vaccines expire in store

Thursday, March 24th, 2022 07:00 | By
National Covid-19 vaccine deployment taskforce chair Willis Akhwale and Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi during a press briefing on the pandemic update at Afya House in Nairobi, yesterday. PD/Gerald Ithana

Over 840,000 doses of Astrazeneca vaccine acquired by the government have expired, the Ministry of Health announced yesterday.

Another 1 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also go bad if they are not utilised before April 15.

The ministry attributed the expiry to low uptake of the vaccines due to complacency, preference for certain vaccines, misinformation and rumours.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr Mercy Mwangangi and the National Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Task Force chairman Dr Willis Akhwale warned that the number of Kenyans going for the jab had dropped significantly since the last containment measures such wearing of masks and in-person meetings were eased.

This, Mwangangi said, had resulted in the drop in daily vaccinations from a high of 252,000 recorded early last month to around 30,000 to 40,000 currently. “It is a steep reduction,” she said.

Dr Akhwale explained every 10th day of the month, the ministry receives information from the counties on the number of doses utilised, those wasted and those that had expired.

“By January this year, we had about 2.2 million doses of AstraZeneca in our cold chain stores, and by February 28, the counties notified us that 843,000 doses had not been used and, therefore, were deemed to have expired,” he explained.

Data from the ministry indicated Nakuru County had the highest number of expired vaccines at 35,000 doses, followed by Busia (27,980), Kajiado (25,770), Kakamega (12,870) and Kwale (11,730).

“Despite our hugely successful campaigns that saw us on certain days able to administer 200,000 doses in a day and more than 3 million over a two-week period, the country may not be able to utilise all the AstraZeneca doses available before expiry,” Mwangangi warned.

“We have reviewed data returns from all the 47 counties and preliminary reports indicate that more than 800,000 AstraZeneca doses from the COVAX facility have expired. AstraZeneca has had particular unique challenges in its administration. Some of these challenges have been complacency by ourselves as Kenyans in being able to take up the jab following the reduction of the positivity rate and Covid-19 admissions,” she said.

The uptake of the second dose to ensure full vaccination status is also on the decline, Mwangangi said, observing that while nearly 900,000 Kenyans are eligible for the booster dose, only 270,000 had taken it.

 “So here is a clear picture of complacency in coming for booster doses. Preference of certain vaccines was also noticed,” she explained.

Rumours and information

Apathy towards the jab was as a result of rumours and misinformation especially in some specific counties.

“We, therefore, want to work with some religious leaders who can really help us address this issue of misinformation,” she added.

She added that there was no scientific evidence to support the rumours.

 “Those, therefore, are baseless rumours,” she stated.

She noted that the government had put in place a raft of measures to ensure vaccines do not expire going forward.

“Kenya shall only accept donation of vaccines whose shelf life is at least four months at the time of delivery; we shall work with counties and partners to scale up communication towards demand generation and continuous community mobilisation,” she said. The ministry, Mwangangi announced, had also instructed counties to ensure continued prioritisation of Covid vaccination and implement measures that ensure utilisation of all doses within their jurisdiction.

“Lastly, we are calling upon all eligible Kenyans to show up at any vaccination post to ensure they are immunised to ensure they are protected against Covid-19,” she urged. “The time to get protected from possible risk of infection is now.”

People Daily established that the Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) had accepted to support Kenya in addressing these concerns through various interventions.

Consequently, Africa CDC and Mastercard Foundation are meeting with ministry officials and other implementing partners in planning for the interventions. This was after the ministry wrote to them seeking support.

The interventions include moonlighting campaigns between 6pm and 8pm, risk perception communication drives to ensure behaviour change among Kenyans to understand that the positivity rate is down but Covid remains rife.

Speaking to the People Daily after launching the Africa CDC-led programme dubbed Saving Lives and Livelihoods for Kenya, Akhwale said there is need to address a risk perception among Kenyans since the government relaxed some of the Covid-19 public health restrictions such as wearing of masks and other measures.

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