NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 4 – Kenya will introduce vaccination against the H1N1 influenza virus commonly known as Swine Flu in January after the World Health Organisation (WHO) offered 730,000 doses of the vaccine.
In an exclusive interview with Capital News, the Director of Public Health Dr Shahnaaz Shariff said that Kenya and Togo would be the first African countries to receive the vaccine from WHO which are enough to vaccinate 10 percent of the population.
“The population we are targeting is one we call high risk and we will start with health workers,” Dr Shariff said.
“We will then immunise medical and nursing students, pregnant women, children who are malnourished and then there will be those with chronic diseases such as diabetes and lung diseases,” he added.
However, this first consignment of 730,000 doses to Kenya would be enough for two percent of the population while the remaining eight percent would be made available by March.
The vaccine is expected to boost immunity against the new influenza, and help ensure public health as the pandemic evolves.
Dr Shariff said the reason they were considering the high risk population first was because majority of the deaths that had occurred across the world were from these groups of people.
“The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada have actually started immunising their citizens against H1N1 and they are also targeting the high risk groups. The difference is they are paying it from their own tax payers’ money but we are getting from the WHO stockpile,” he said.
WHO recommends that health workers be given first priority for early vaccination to protect themselves and their patients, and help keep health systems functioning as the pandemic evolves.
In October, the International Health Organisation reported that scientists had discarded a first set of vaccines that had been developed for the prevention of H1N1 influenza virus because of the virus mutation.
In November, GlaxoSmithKline reached an agreement with the WHO to donate 50 million doses of the pandemic vaccine to the health body and GSK was to prepare the first shipments of the vaccine to WHO by end of November.
WHO says it has listed 95 developing countries that are eligible to receive donated vaccines and aims to secure enough vaccines to cover 10 percent of the population of each of these countries.
The first cases of the AH1N1 influenza virus that involved Kenyans were reported in June after a student from the United Kingdom who was among 33 other British students tested positive to the flu.
According to the Public Health Ministry since then, Kenya has recorded about 500 cases of the virus.
The new strain of H1N1 Influenza virus is believed to be caused by a mutated H5N1 strain virus subtype, which also causes bird flu.
The new form contains DNA sequences from human and avian influenza viruses, as well as from other strains of swine influenza.
The new strain, which is transmitted from human to human, has not circulated previously in humans. The virus is contagious, spreading easily from one person to another and from one country to another.
Young people under the age of 25 years are the main casualties in all the countries.
A similar outbreak occurred in 1918 but was more severe than the current epidemic but the WHO warned that this may change hence the need for more vigilance.