As part of its move to combat the spread of polio, Kenya’s government has ordered a massive vaccination program involving 30 million children, ranging from 6 months to 18 years old.
The Covid-19 vaccine, whose main ingredient is a form of cowpox that has been safely introduced to the health-care system in the past decade, has long been hailed as a potential cure for autism and intellectual disabilities. But in recent years the vaccine has also come under fire from opponents who argue that cowpox can cause severe illness, including death, that similar vaccines usually do not.
Proponents say vaccinations are the safest way to limit the risk of both types of illness.
The Covid-19 vaccine was introduced into Kenya’s supply in 2009, as part of an effort to bolster childhood immunization rates in an impoverished country where millions of people contract illness that cannot be directly treated. The first batch of the vaccine was produced at a cost of about $800 million. Since then, Kenya has adopted an ambitious strategy to target particular communities across the country for vaccination campaigns.
So far, the mandatory vaccination program has made a significant impact, with vaccinators reporting a 30 percent increase in the number of vaccinations done, compared with this time last year. In 2013, Kenya was having difficulty vaccinating 95 percent of its population, according to the government.
Just how effective the immunization program has been remains in question. There have been several complaints since the vaccination campaign began last October that some parents are refusing to get their children inoculated. The World Health Organization now advises that parents immunize their children only at mandatory intervals.
The WHO said there had been a failure in communication about the mandatory program.
Kenya’s government has acknowledged that it has a lot to do in terms of communicating its program to parents, and is hoping that other countries will follow its lead. One major element is ensuring that the public understands what vaccinations are required.
“In the past, people were sometimes completely ignorant of the need to vaccinate their children,” Sam Ongeri, the minister for health, told The New York Times.
The program has been unpopular with some parents. One man who gave his name as James said that his 15-year-old daughter would not be getting any vaccinations because she did not like the idea.
“The government needs to educate the public better,” he said.
A more active role will have to be played by the public to ensure that the program succeeds.
Information on how to get immunized, as well as the government’s position on the Covid-19 vaccine, is available on the Kenya ministry of health’s website. The website gives an official child’s vaccination schedule.
The Times reported in February that a newspaper advertisement from the ministry warned that there were changes to the program that could trigger adverse reactions and even lead to death.
A ministry of health official declined to say whether the ministry would start pulling advertisements that cited the risks associated with the vaccination program.