NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya began vaccinating people on Friday against COVID-19 with AstraZeneca shots hoped to help revive the battered tourism-dependent economy of East Africa’s richest nation.
“This may mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” said Susan Mochache, a senior official at the health ministry.
Nairobi received over a million AstraZeneca doses on Wednesday, the first of 3.56 million shots via the global, vaccine-sharing COVAX facility. Top of the list are 400,000 health staff and other essential workers.
Kenya plans to vaccinate 1.25 million people by June and another 9.6 million in the next phase, with more vaccines expected within weeks.
Patrick Amoth, director general at the ministry of health, was applauded by workers at Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital after he was one of the first to receive the shot.
“I am feeling great,” he said. “The vaccine is safe.”
Vaccinations should bolster an economy that shrank 1.1% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2020 compared with 5.8% in the same period the previous year.
Tourism has been badly hit, losing 110 billion shillings ($1 billion) of revenues between January and October of 2020.
‘NORMAL OR NEAR NORMAL’
“Going forward with this additional arsenal, we only hope that things will get better and we will go to normal or near normal if we have a significant proportion of our people vaccinated,” Amoth told reporters before getting his shot.
Kenya was the latest nation among various around Africa to receive vaccines through the World Health Organization’s co-led COVAX facility which aims to secure about 1.3 billion doses for 92 lower- and middle-income nations.
WHO said on Thursday that most African countries will kick-start vaccinations by the end of March in a continent with bigger financial and logistical challenges than others.
Some in Kenya expressed scepticism about the drugs.
The Catholic Doctors Association, for example, urged Kenyans not to take it due to its experimental nature.
But the Catholic Church disagreed. “In principle we want to fight COVID-19 and it is ethical to receive those vaccines,” said Archbishop Anthony Muheria, as quoted by Citizen TV.
($1 = 109.5500 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)