The Kenyan government has attracted criticism after reports emerged that it had offered free Covid-19 vaccines to all diplomats based in the country.
In a letter dated on Thursday, March 18, and seen by Reuters, an international news agency, the offer was reportedly made by the Ministry of Foreign affair to diplomatic missions.
The Foreign Ministry’s Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau, said that the shots being offered had been supplied via the World Health Organization (WHO) co-led COVAX vaccine access scheme.
Commander Kenya Air Force (KAF) Major General Francis Ogolla on Wednesday, 10 March 2021, taking part in the ongoing Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) COVID -19 vaccination exercise at Moi Air Base (MAB) in Nairobi.
According to Kamau, Kenyans prioritized for the first phase of vaccination are still being vaccinated, but the decision was in keeping with Kenya’s responsibilities as home to a large diplomatic community.
“We need to protect everyone in Kenya. It just made sense not to reach out only to Kenyans, but also to the international community here,” said Kamau.
In the letter, Kamau acknowledged that Nairobi hosts the United Nations headquarters in Africa estimating that between 25,000 to 30,000 diplomats, UN staff and family members reside in Nairobi.
“We are the only United Nations capital headquarters in the global South. Once you have this kind of honour, it comes with a certain responsibility,” he said.
Speaking to Reuters, the spokesman for United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON), Newton Kanhema, confirmed the offer saying that most of the approximately 20,000 staff and dependents were children who are not eligible to take the Covid-19 jab.
The note indicated that vaccinations would begin on March 23, and only accredited diplomats and their families were eligible.
A number of diplomats, and who did not wish to be named, told Reuters that indeed several embassies had received the offer – and questioned the move by the Kenyan government.
“Why does the Kenyan government prioritize expats – who have money and can get the vaccines through their own channels – over its own population, especially the poor?” said one of the diplomats whose embassy had received the jabs offer.
Kenyan physician and the chief executive officer of the Kenya Medical Association (KMA), Elizabeth Gitau, said that the Kenyan population should be prioritized.
“I think the government should focus on getting the priority population vaccinated and achieving vaccine acceptancy with them before opening up to diplomats,” said Gitau.
On Friday, March 19, the Ministry of Health said via Twitter that just over 28,000 health workers, teachers and security personnel had received their first shots.
As the diplomats are being offered free Covid-19 jabs, in January, the Ministry of Health had announced that a single vaccine jab would cost Ksh 770.
“We have been able to negotiate to the price of Ksh 770 for the cost of one vaccine dose. That applies for whatever one vaccine candidate we get,” Health Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi had stated.
Kenya is battling a third wave and the health ministry reported 28 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began.
The first shots of the Covid-19 vaccines being administered in Kenya on March 5, 2021.