Margaret Keenan, 91 became the first person in the world to take the Pfizer Covid-19 jab as part of a mass vaccination program rolled out by the United Kingdom government on December 8, 2020.
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 late last year.
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.
This is already the case as rich nations have preordered large quantities of vaccine candidates, raising concerns over equity in distribution. It is for this reason that Odede is 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.
“The other thing about this vaccine is that, if you make it widely available, you block it from the black market which is not usually safe and happens only if the vaccine is not generally accessible. I hope the government learns from past experiences and avoids incidents of the vaccine going to private hospitals instead of going to the poor,” he added.
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. Besides, there is the cost aspect of the vaccine which has not been addressed, and if it comes to that, this population will still be disadvantaged.
With SHOFCO having a presence in over 20 slums in Kenya plus a massive network and trust, they will be the perfect partner for the government when it comes to distributing the Covid-19 vaccine in these areas.
“For me, this requires door-to-door distribution and this is where SHOFCO comes in as the last mile delivery partner. If the government comes in a rush, we will go away, but if they come with a plan, we will work together,” said Odede.
He added; “The SHOFCO Urban Network (SUN) works closely with these communities. We have leadership in every slum and know each other well. We worked with the community at the height of the Covid-19 period and have a database of over 600,000 households so we have the system in place. Our trained community health workers can help deliver this vaccine through a partnership with the government.”
Indeed, SHOFCO did more than the government could manage during the dark days of Covid-19, distributing relief food, cash, masks, soap, and sanitizers as well as installing hundreds of handwashing stations that reached over 2.5 million people. SHOFCO also enjoys the confidence of the population, who prefer any help going their way to be distributed by SHOFCO staff and not local administrators such as chiefs whom they accuse of corruption, nepotism, and discrimination.
“Government has to be careful when coming to slums. Things like Huduma Number will not work here because so many people did not bother with it. There are gaps and they cannot rely on that data alone. There are no house numbers here so how are you going to manage distribution? Our SUN staff can work with the government and go door-to-door since they know these community members. They will mark each household after vaccination and this is how we will fight this issue together,” said Odede.
By relying on SHOFCO, the government will deal with the issue in record time while Odede, in one small way, will have helped this community that is so dear to his heart.