Kenya has offered free COVID-19 vaccines to all diplomats based there, including thousands of United Nations staff, even though it hasn’t finished vaccinating its own health workers, other frontline staff or the elderly, drawing criticism from local doctors.
The offer was made in a March 18 letter sent by the Foreign Ministry to diplomatic missions and seen by the Reuters news agency.
Macharia Kamau, the principal secretary of the Foreign Ministry, said the vaccines offered were provided through the COVAX vaccine access program co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Kenya, where nearly 2,000 people have died from COVID-19, is grappling with a third wave and the health ministry reported 28 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.
“We must protect everyone who resides in Kenya. It just made sense not to reach out only to Kenyans, but also to the international community here, ”Kamau said.
Kamau said Kenyans in priority categories were still being vaccinated, but the decision was in line with Kenya’s responsibilities as the home of a large diplomatic community.
He estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 diplomats, United Nations staff and their families live in Nairobi. “We are the only seat of the United Nations capital in the countries of the South. Once you have that kind of honor, comes a certain responsibility.
Nairobi hosts the headquarters of the United Nations in Africa. The United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) is one of the four major sites in the world, where many United Nations agencies such as the children’s agency UNICEF and others have large presences.
Just over 28,000 health workers, teachers and security personnel had received their first vaccines, the health ministry said in a March 19 message on Twitter.
He announced in early March that he would reserve 400,000 vaccines for health workers and other essential workers.
“I think the government should focus on vaccinating the priority population and accepting vaccines with them before opening up to diplomats,” said Elizabeth Gitau, Kenyan doctor and CEO of the Kenya Medical Association. .
The Ministry of Health referred the questions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Two Nairobi-based diplomats who declined to be identified confirmed to Reuters that their embassies had received the offer.
“Kenyans must come first,” said Chibanzi Mwachonda, head of the Kenya Union of Doctors, Pharmacists and Dentists.
The government note said vaccinations would start on March 23 and only accredited diplomats and their families were eligible.
Kenya has so far received just two lots of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine – just over one million via COVAX and a 100,000 injections donation from the Indian government.
COVAX was created to ensure that vaccines are available to high-risk and vulnerable people, as well as frontline health workers, in countries unable to purchase vaccines in the highly competitive international market.
WHO referred Reuters to UNON and the Kenyan government when asked to comment.
Newton Kanhema, spokesperson for UNON, confirmed he had received the offer and would accept the government. He said UNON had around 20,000 staff and dependents, but many were children and therefore were not eligible.
“Why is the Kenyan government prioritizing expatriates – who have the money and can get vaccinated through their own channels – over its own people, especially the poor?” said one of the diplomats whose embassy had received the offer of beatings.