This week is big for Kenya. According to Health Cabinet secretary, Mutahi Kagwe, Kenya will receive its first batch of 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The country has so far reported 101,819 COVID-19 cases, 1,779 deaths and 84,361 recovered cases.
Kenya getting the vaccine is welcome news but some gaps might render the whole exercise of vaccination redundant.
The country has taken a rather eased approach when it comes to shutting down its borders to other countries. Having Kenya open to the rest of the world is great for the economy but risky to the health system that is already facing challenges.
Across the globe, a variety of new COVID-19 variants are emerging. The B.1.351 variant from South Africa, for example, has caused a halt to the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine with scientists citing the vaccine to have a low efficacy on the new variant. 90% of all new COVID-19 cases in South Africa are due to the new variant that has a 70% transmissible rate.
The B.1.1.7 variant in the UK was discovered in September 2020 and has been identified to have numerous mutations. Some of these mutations are similar to the ones found in the South African variant. The transmissible rate seems to be similar for both variants.
Kenya has its borders open to the world. Travellers from countries like the UK and South Africa can come and leave as they wish. The challenge that might leave Kenya with egg on their face if the country registers the existence of the new variants amongst its population.
Kenya and many other African countries are relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine because of the ease of storage and affordability, thanks to initiatives by the CDC Africa under the COVID-19 Global Access Program, COVAX.
The country would be left in a tight spot if the country were to, for example, confirm the existence of the South African variant in its population. The vaccine would be rendered redundant given the data revealed by scientists over the efficacy of the vaccine.
The health system that is already somewhat crippled would be overwhelmed by the high number of COVID-19 cases caused by the exponential transmission rate of the new variant.
Lockdowns would be the continued new normal in the country. The education system that is already struggling to catch up would be placed at a disadvantage. The country’s economy might suffer dire consequences as a result of shying away from closing their borders temporarily to countries considered as hot spots for the new variants.