Kenya has provided free COVID-19 vaccines to all diplomats stationed there, including thousands of United Nations personnel. However, it has yet to fully inoculate its health workers, other frontline staff, or the elderly, drawing criticism from local doctors.
The offer was made in a letter sent to diplomatic missions by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 18 that Reuters saw. The shots were provided through the World Health Organization (WHO) co-led COVAX vaccine access scheme, according to Macharia Kamau, the foreign ministry’s principal secretary.
Kenya is fighting the third wave of COVID-19, which has killed nearly 2,000 people. The health ministry reported 28 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic started.
“Everyone living in Kenya must be protected. It was only natural to consult the international community as well as Kenyans,” Kamau explained.
According to Kamau, Kenyans in priority categories were still being vaccinated, but the decision was made in accordance with Kenya’s obligations as the host of a large diplomatic community. According to him, Nairobi is home to 25,000 to 30,000 diplomats, UN personnel, and their families.
“In the global South, we are the only United Nations capital headquarters. This kind of honor comes with a certain amount of responsibility.”
Nairobi is the African headquarters of the United Nations. The UN Office in Nairobi (UNON) is one of four major locations worldwide where many UN agencies, including UNICEF and others, have a significant presence.
The Ministry of Health posted on Twitter on March 19 that just over 28,000 health professionals, students, and security personnel had gotten their first shots. It announced in early March that 400,000 vaccines would be set aside for medical personnel and other critical employees.
“Before opening up to diplomats, I believe the government should focus on getting the priority population vaccinated and achieving vaccine acceptability with them,” said Elizabeth Gitau, a Kenyan physician and the chief executive officer of the Kenya Medical Association (KMA).
Questions were directed to the foreign ministry by the health ministry. Two Nairobi-based diplomats who asked not to be identified confirmed that their embassies had accepted the offer.
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-19 vaccines so far: just over 1 million from COVAX and 100,000 from the Indian government.
COVAX was created to ensure that vaccines were available to high-risk and vulnerable individuals, as well as frontline health workers, in countries where the international market was too competitive.
When asked for comment, the WHO referred Reuters to the UNON and the Kenyan government. UNON’s spokesman, Newton Kanhem, confirmed that the organization had received the offer and that it would accept it. UNON had about 20,000 employees and dependents, he said, but many of them were children who were not eligible.
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