Kenya will have to wait a little longer, like other vaccine deficient countries across the world, to know whether it will be a beneficiary of a donation of some 60 million doses of AstraZeneca jabs from the United States government.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in an interview on Tuesday, said a decision is yet to be made on which countries would benefit from the donation, as the process by which to share the vaccines is still under consideration.
Kenya is among countries experiencing a serious shortage of the AstraZeneca vaccine following India’s ban on exports.
Mr Blinken said the vaccines will be shared bilaterally or through Covax,a facility put in place by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure equitable access to vaccines by low income countries.
« We share the conviction that none of us will be fully safe until in effect everyone is safe, and the vast majority of the world is vaccinated. We know that if the virus continues to replicate anywhere, it is likely to then be mutating into new variants, and those variants could come back and bite countries and people who have already been vaccinated. So, beyond being the right thing to do, it’s actually from a national security and national health perspective the necessary thing to do to make sure that everyone everywhere is getting access to the vaccine, and that this be done on an equitable basis, responsive as well to where the need is most urgent, » he said at a roundtable with Kenyan and Nigerian journalists during his Tuesday virtual tour of the two countries.
The decision to share the vaccines was announced by the White House on Monday, and came in the wake of calls for vaccine equity by development and human rights agencies, with the US and other rich countries being accused of stockpiling and hoarding the crucial drugs at a time when less-endowed countries are struggling to protect the lives of their citizens.
Three approved drugs
The US is yet to authorise the use of AstraZenaca, and is currently vaccinating its citizens with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, with reports that some states are already experiencing a glut of the three approved drugs.
Ironically, the US has 10 million AstraZeneca vaccines and is expecting another 50 million, even as several countries report serious shortages.
Mr Blinken said the vaccines, which must first go through a review by the Food and Drug Administration to make sure that they were produced in a safe and secure manner, would be made available to other countries having got to a point where the US was comfortable that its population could be effectively vaccinated.
Unable to immediately obtain additional supplies of AstraZeneca, Kenya has announced a delay in the administration of the second dose of the vaccine to individuals who have received the first shot from the initial batch of one million doses procured through Covax.
Following the change of administration, the US rejoined the WHO and was the largest contributor to Covax, with an investment of $2 billion upfront and another $2 billion set to come between now and 2022.
Mr Blinken, who held private talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, said the US had discussed governance issues at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) with a view to resolving a stalemate that has denied thousands of Kenyans access to anti-retroviral drugs.
« We have had an issue with Kemsa, and as you know very well, concerns in particular about corruption that I know the government is working to reform. We have an obligation to our own taxpayers when we’re spending their money to do it in a way that is accountable and fully transparent… What we talked about today was making sure that as Kemsa was being reformed, nothing fell through the cracks, that we had the ability together to make sure that our assistance continued uninterrupted, so that people in need of what we’re providing didn’t go without it. And I think that we’re going to work very closely together to make sure that happens. »
Other discussions centred on the Free Trade Agreement between Kenya and the United States, as well as regional geopolitics and security.