NAIROBI, Kenya, March 21 – The United Nations on Sunday defended its decision to accept free Covid-19 jabs for its staff in Kenya even though the government there hasn’t finished vaccinating its own vulnerable citizens.
The offer, confirmed by UN and diplomatic sources, comes as Kenya battles a severe third wave of the virus and last week recorded its highest single-day death toll since the pandemic began.
The UN Office at Nairobi (UNON), which has approximately 20,000 staff and dependants, said it had accepted the national government’s offer of free AstraZeneca jabs but stressed only those most at risk would be eligible.
“It is not a wholesale vaccination of all UN staff members and their dependents,” UNON spokesman Newton Kanhema told AFP on Sunday.
Registration opened Sunday for UN staff wanting the jab, with vaccinations to commence Tuesday.
Kenya is still in the early stages of inoculating its most at-risk frontline workers against Covid-19.
The first doses were administered on March 5. On March 19, the health ministry said 28,000 medical workers, teachers and security personnel had received their first jab of a two-dose regimen.
Earlier this month Kenya acquired about one million doses of AstraZeneca through Covax, a global vaccine-sharing scheme to ensure coronavirus jabs reach the countries most in need.
A second batch of 100,000 vaccines was later donated from India, while a third consignment is expected in April.
Kanhema said it was “likely” the vaccines destined for UN staff in Kenya would come from the Covax batch.
“The UN has got staff members deployed around the world, and those staff members are as vulnerable as anybody else. There is no other facility that could give them access to a vaccine,” he said.
“We have health workers in the clinic in the UN. Those are frontline workers. If they receive a vaccine, it is in harmony with what the Kenyan government is doing.”
In a letter to staff dated March 18, the UN urged employees and their families to take up the Kenyan government’s “generous offer” as soon as possible.
– Hospitals overwhelmed –
A Nairobi-based diplomat told AFP their embassy had also received the offer of free vaccines from the foreign ministry.
The ministry did not reply to requests for comment.
However the health ministry said Sunday: “The vaccination plan remains intact and targets all persons resident in Kenya including those serving in the diplomatic corps.”
The World Health Organization, a co-leader of the Covax scheme, declined to comment and referred questions to UNON and Kenya’s foreign ministry.
Kenya has suffered nearly 2,000 deaths from coronavirus including 28 on Friday — its highest daily toll yet.
Rates of community transmission have soared to near-record highs this month, and doctors warn hospitals are overwhelmed.
“This is the very worst time to get COVID-19. If you fall seriously ill in need of a hospital bed with O2 or ICU bed, you won’t find any in the city,” Dr Ahmed Kalebi, director of one of Nairobi’s main private laboratories Lancet, said on Sunday.
Kenya recorded 747 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, taking the total since the pandemic began a year ago to 120,910.