Controversies around the importation, licensing and usage of a Covid-19 vaccine are threatening to derail a mass vaccination programme by the government as it battles to contain a third wave of the virus.
The Sputnik V Covid vaccine has come under increased scrutiny as the public, including lawmakers, question the importation and certification of the vaccine by private companies whose identities are yet to be known.
Coming against the backdrop of multi-billion shilling scandals that have rocked various agencies under the Ministry of Health since the outbreak of the pandemic, the entry of the Russia-made Sputnik V once again puts processes and procedures within the ministry under the microscope.
So far, Deputy President William Ruto remains the highest-ranking government official to have publicly received the Sputnik V. Other members of the Executive, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, have received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, whose distribution and use is being championed by the government.
On Monday, the Russian Embassy put out a statement that said there existed no agreement between it and the Kenyan government and that the importation of the Sputnik V vaccine was a matter between the Russian State and the private importers and had nothing to do with the Kenyan government.
“The Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Kenya informs that as of March 29, 2021, the Russian vaccine against Covid19 Sputnik V has been imported to Kenya by a private entity on commercial basis,” read the statement. “The embassy… hereby underlines that it is the obligation of private importers to strictly follow all the regulations of the Kenyan authorities and act in compliance with the legislation of the Republic of Kenya.”
The embassy seemed to absolve itself from any questions surrounding the vaccine by stating: “All questions relating to this private commercial importation of the vaccine should be addressed directly to its importers in Kenya.”
On Wednesday, Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo wrote to the Pharmacy and Poisons Board requesting more information about the importation of the vaccine.
“Whereas you issued a public pronouncement that you had granted Emergency Use Approval to a private pharmacy in Kenya, details of which remain shrouded, the Ministry of Health came out stating that there was no vaccine currently approved for sale in Kenya,” Mr Amollo said in the letter.
Private hospitals in the country had already gone to market, issuing various statements on the availability and dispensing of the vaccine at a price ranging from Sh11,000 to 19,000.
During the daily press briefings on the Covid-19 pandemic yesterday, Health Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi said all procedures were followed in importing the single dose vaccine.
“We need the private sector to get to the sweet number of 60 per cent of the population to get vaccinated,” she said.
On the international front, Moscow has been trumpeting the entry of its vaccine into the global market as a possible solution to current Covid-19 vaccine shortages around the world, offering a glimmer of hope to developing countries in Africa, Latin America and some parts of Europe.