Virus Surge Pushes Kenya to Start Early Vaccination of Elderly

Kenya decided to immediately start vaccinating people who are 58 years and older against Covid-19 as a third wave of infections stretched hospitals in the East African nation.

The announcement by the health ministry expands the first phase of inoculation that started March 5, targeting 1.25 million frontline workers, including health and security personnel and teachers. The surge over the past couple of weeks, with a positivity rate peaking at 22.1%, necessitated the need to start vaccinating the elderly, according to the government.

“They are at most risk of severe disease and account for 60% of our recorded deaths,” Willis Akhwale, head of the Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Taskforce, said in a statement on Thursday. They “will now be a priority target group under the ongoing phase 1 vaccination exercise.”

Since the program started, Kenya has inoculated 64,100 people with AstraZeneca doses from the Covax initiative that’s designed to ensure equitable access to vaccines around the world. The numbers will pick up as the government resolves some logistical challenges in delivering doses to the last mile, said Jacqueline Kitulu, a doctor and former president of the Kenya Medical Association.

Kenya recorded 1,540 new infections on Wednesday, including a 110-year-old person, according to the health ministry. The country has so far confirmed a total of 124,707 Covid-19 cases and 2,066 deaths.

Ethiopia, Hospital Charges

The surge in Kenya is reflective of the situation in neighboring Ethiopia, where with 192,575 confirmed cases hospitals are almost overrun and most of the virus-related deaths in eastern Africa have been reported. The positivity rate in Ethiopia has been around 20% for the past month.

There have been reports of a shortage of intensive care units and life-saving oxygen in both countries.

Kenya is “right in the middle of a strong third wave” Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said in a statement on Tuesday. “Arising from this situation, services in our health facilities are over stretched but, may I say, not quite overrun.”

Authorities in Kenya started appealing to private hospitals not to hike medical-care costs following local media reports that some facilities were charging prohibitive prices. Some health centers demand as much as 650,000 shillings ($5,920) as a deposit for a patient to be admitted into intensive care, according to the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council.

Ambulance costs have climbed. St. John Ambulance Kenya increased its rates to 6,000 shillings, and charges about thrice that amount for patients presenting Covid-19 symptoms and requiring supplementary oxygen, according to Fred Majiwa, a business development and communications head at the service. There has been an increase in the number of referrals over the last one month, he said.

“I wish to remind our health-care providers, both private and public, that we are in a pandemic,” Kagwe said. “It is not the time to punish our people through some self-seeking money-minting opportunist escapades.”

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