Kenya has provided free COVID vaccine to all diplomats based there, including thousands of United Nations personnel, even though it has not vaccinated its health workers, other frontline staff, or the elderly, drawing criticism from local doctors.
The offer was made in a letter sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to diplomatic missions on March 18 and obtained by Reuters. The shots being offered, according to Macharia Kamau, the foreign ministry’s principal secretary, were provided through the World Health Organization (WHO) co-led COVAX vaccine access scheme.
Kenya, where nearly 2,000 people have died due to COVID-19, is dealing with a third wave, with the health ministry reporting 28 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began.
“We must protect everyone who lives in Kenya. It just made sense to reach out to the international community here as well as Kenyans, “Kamau stated
Kenyans in priority categories, according to Kamau, are still being vaccinated, but the decision was made in accordance with Kenya’s responsibilities as the home of a large diplomatic community.
He estimated that Nairobi is home to 25,000 to 30,000 diplomats, United Nations personnel, and family members.
“We are the world’s only U.N. capital headquarters in the global South. When you are given this kind of honor, it comes with a certain amount of responsibility.”
Nairobi is the African headquarters of the United Nations. The United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON) is one of four major sites worldwide where many U.N. agencies, including the children’s agency UNICEF, have a significant presence.
The Ministry of Health announced on Twitter on March 19 that nearly 28,000 health workers, teachers, and security personnel had received their first shots. It announced in early March that it would set aside 400,000 vaccines for medical personnel and other critical workers.
“I believe the government should prioritize vaccinating the priority population and achieving vaccine acceptability with them before opening up to diplomats,” said Elizabeth Gitau, a Kenyan physician and the chief executive officer of the Kenya Medical Association (KMA).
Questions were referred to the foreign ministry by the health ministry. Two Nairobi-based diplomats who declined to be identified confirmed that their embassies had received the offer.
“Kenyans must be prioritized,” said Chibanzi Mwachonda, president of Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Dentists Union.
According to the government note, vaccinations would begin on March 23, and only accredited diplomats and their families would be eligible.
Kenya has only received two batches of AstraZeneca COVID vaccine: a little more than a million via COVAX and a 100,000 shot donation from the Indian government.
COVAX was established to ensure that vaccines were available to high-risk and vulnerable people and frontline health workers in countries that were unable to purchase vaccines on the highly competitive international market.
When asked for comment, the WHO referred Reuters to the UNON and the Kenyan government.
Newton Kanhema, a spokesman for UNON, confirmed that the organization had received the offer and would accept it. He stated that UNON had approximately 20,000 employees and dependents but that many of them were children and thus ineligible.
“Why does the Kenyan government prioritize ex-pats – who have money and can get the vaccines through their channels – over its population, particularly the poor?” asked one of the diplomats whose embassy had received the offer of vaccinations.