What is the most delicate item you have ever carried? Eggs, perhaps?
While some of us have mastered the art of transporting eggs, the stakes associated with moving over one million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine are much higher.
The 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in the country on Tuesday night.
First, despite the vaccines being intended for Kenyans, the country’s own airline could not fly them in. While receiving the vaccines at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said Kenya Airways had not been cleared to transport the life-saving shipment.
“As you know, we had to convert one of our 787 passenger plane to become a freighter. Now, we have gone through an audit with Unicef; we have signed a memorandum of understanding with Unicef so I believe going forward we can see KQ delivering these vaccines in the future,” Mr Macharia said.
The vaccines arrived on board a Qatar Airways Boeing Dreamliner at 11.50 pm. After being offloaded, the precious cargo received police escort from JKIA to a storage facility in Kitengela. Two trucks and their escorts kept an average speed of 40km/h and arrived at their destination at 2.04 am.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine requires refrigerator storage temperatures of between two and eight degrees Celsius. The labels on the packages warned as much: ‘Time and temperature-sensitive product’ and ‘Life-saving highly perishable medicines’.
They were also branded Serum Institute of India, who are the manufacturers of the vaccine.
Overseeing the exercise was a team led by National Vaccines and Immunisation Programme head Collins Tabu and acting Director of Medical Services Pacifica Onyancha, who were up as late as 3am on Wednesday to ensure nothing went wrong.
The biggest fear was breaking the cold chain, which could compromise the integrity of the vaccines and reduce their effectiveness. Dr Tabu said the doses were triple-packed and layered with frozen icepacks, and the outermost package was insulated.
“Insulation makes sure there is no exchange of temperatures,” he said. “Each package also comes with a temperature monitor. Once the package is opened, the temperature is recorded.”
The instructions on the outermost packaging indicated that it should not be stored in temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius or above 25 degrees Celsius.
To maintain the temperature range, Dr Tabu said it was important for the vaccines to be transported in refrigerator trucks similar to those that move perishable goods from the farm to the airport for export.
The Standard witnessed the unpacking of the vaccines at the Kitengela stores. There were two layers of ice packs at the top and several more surrounding the primary packaging. Workers removed the ice packs to reveal smaller boxes said to contain 3,000 doses each.
Dr Tabu explained that this was necessary because the huge packages could not fit inside the cold rooms.
So what will happen when distribution starts, we asked.
“We will go through the same process. We will align ice packs around the primary packaging and we will also use refrigerator trucks,” he said.
Dr Onyancha said she will be among the healthcare workers who will receive the vaccine once the exercise starts. “Forget about the news you have heard. Serum Institute of India manufactures most of the vaccines we give our children so the vaccine is safe.”
A clearer plan on the role counties will play in the rollout of the vaccines will be outlined by the government. Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe is expected to update the country on distribution today.
“These vaccines will not be a Nairobi affair. Starting tomorrow, we will be moving into the counties,” said Kagwe at JKIA.
In the first round of vaccinations, Kenya will distribute 459,000 doses. Level Six hospitals will get 33,000 doses while military hospitals will get 21,000 doses.
The WHO recommends giving two doses intramuscularly with an interval of eight to 12 weeks. The rest of the vaccines will be administered to the first recipients after this period.
While the vaccine is a literal shot in the arm in the fight against Covid-19, Kagwe said it should not mean that Kenyans can now lower their guard. “We have been fighting the virus with rubber bullets. These vaccines are equal to acquiring bazookas or machine guns.”
The CS acknowledged there is hesitancy around vaccination even among healthcare workers who are considered a priority group and are slated to be among the first people to be injected. The exercise, he assured, will be voluntary.
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