Covid-19 Vaccine: SHOFCO offers to support gov’t in slum vaccination drive

Covid-19 Vaccine: SHOFCO offers to support gov’t in slum vaccination drive

Ninety-one-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to be given the Pfizer Covid-19 jab as part of a mass vaccination program rolled out by the UK government on December 8. It was the first of over 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that have been dispensed in the UK so far.

England was the first country in the world to start using the Pfizer vaccine after regulators approved its use in December. Other vaccines that have since been approved include Moderna (US), Oxford University/AstraZeneca (UK), and Sputnik V (Russia) while others are still waiting in line.

Over 107 million doses of various Covid-19 vaccines have already been administered around the world with the US leading at 34 million doses. Israel (5.2 million) and United Arab Emirates (3.6 million) are among other countries that have rolled out elaborate vaccination programmes, starting with the most vulnerable who include the elderly and health and care staff.

However, thousands of miles away in Kenya, the country is still waiting for its first jab, expected to be administered in mid-February. In January, Kenya announced that it has ordered 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, giving hope to its 53 million population that it would not be long before a solution arrives. However, as reality dawned about the high demand and the limited doses available, the country had to revise its target.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said in late January that only 1.25 million jabs will be administered in the country between February and June. The second phase is planned to administer the vaccination of 9.7 million more Kenyans, from July 2021 to June 2022, targeting those older than 50 as well as those above 18 “with underlying health conditions,” according to the ministry.

The fact that it will take longer than earlier anticipated to vaccinate many Kenyans brings to the fore the fears expressed by SHOFCO founder and CEO Kennedy Odede, that wealthy nations are in a dangerous competition to own the vaccine, leaving developing countries behind. Odede is thus calling for a synchronized approach involving the government and private sector which will help in distribution once the vaccine lands in the country.

“In the US, they are saying frontline workers first, care home staff, the elderly. They have a structure but in Kenya, we don’t have any plan yet. We do not want it to be for politicians, yet health care and community workers cannot access it,” Odede said in an address on Friday.

In Odede’s assessment, a proper plan that puts health workers, the elderly, and the most vulnerable in front of the queue will be the best approach. He points to the fact that in Nairobi alone, over 60 percent of the population lives in slums adding to the unique challenges they face such as; difficulties in acquiring masks and sanitizers, social distancing in areas where most live in a 10-by-10 house with up to five family members while sharing a toilet with 50 households nearby.

It is for these reasons he claims these residents of informal settlements need to be first in line. He further points out the cost aspect of the vaccine which has not been addressed, and if it comes to that, Odede says this population will still be disadvantaged.

SHOFCO has a presence in over 20 slums in Kenya and has been supporting the government’s COVID-19 containment measures by distributing relief food, cash, masks, soap, and sanitizers as well as installing hundreds of handwashing stations to help millions of slum residents.