Why Kenyan nurses are avoiding Covid jab

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The first batch of the vaccine was to be administered to front-line service providers.

Healthcare workers fear Kenya might not attain Covid-19 herd immunity due to hesitance in uptake of the vaccine.

The workers’ representatives told the Senate Standing Committee on Health that their low uptake of the jab might hamper the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination rollout as acceptability of the vaccine among healthcare employees is only at five per cent.

Kenya Professional Nurses Association’s representative Triza Ireri told the Senate committee, chaired by Ledama Olekina, that a survey they conducted revealed that 80 per cent of nurses said they would not be vaccinated. Reasons cited for low uptake include lack of involvement in the rollout process, lack of sensitisation and training on safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Others said taking the jab was voluntary and hence they were exercising freedom of choice.

About 45 per cent of nurses surveyed said they would advise their families to wait, while 13 per cent said they would advise against the jab.

Ms Ireri told the Committee that “nurses and healthcare workers are not believing in the vaccines, yet they are the ones to give the right information to the public.”

According to Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) acting Secretary-General Chibanzi Mwachonda, the rollout did not engage healthcare workers, yet “employees are not immune to what is happening.”

“Healthcare workers understand vaccines, but there is need for engagement, more so on concerns around effects of Covid-19 vaccine that is new. There is also no clear path on how they will get treatment if they are affected,” said Dr Mwachonda.

However, KMPDU supports the government on the choice of vaccine through the COVAX Alliance, but Kenya Union of Clinical Officers chair Peterson Wachira told the Committee that “there were a lot of unanswered questions about the vaccine, which has resulted in hesitance. It is worrying that we might be working against the objective of the vaccine.”

Joseph Chebii, the Kenya Clinical Officers Association Secretary-General, said sensitisation should be done through associations and the unions to dispel myths, mistrust and safety of the jab.

Mr Chebii said in a survey conducted among clinical officers, 40 per cent were willing to take the vaccine, but 20 per cent were unsure.

The union representative said failure by top political leadership to take the jab had also contributed to laxity.

Kenya received 1.02 million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from Covax facility, with additional 100,000 doses from the Indian government.

The first batch of the vaccine was to be administered to front-line service providers, including healthcare workers, security officers, guards and teachers.

Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary General Seth Panyako said to allay fear and boost uptake of the vaccine, they should be engaged more by the ministry, as “advance effects of the vaccine is a major issue of concern that has resulted in low uptake among medics.”

The nurses’ representative added, “We are vaccinators and questions are being asked by the community on the effects of this vaccine. Some counties are recording zero uptake.”

According to the Ministry of Health, at least 9,144 health workers had been vaccinated by March 13, with Nakuru being among counties with high uptake. At least 638 health employees and Kenya Defence Forces at Lanet Regional Military Hospital have been vaccinated and County chief nursing officer Virginia Njenga saying they were targeting at least 100 people every day and “we are expecting to reach all our target group for the first batch.”

Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital vaccinated 1,200 in the first week of vaccine rollout, according to the facility CEO Dr Wilson Aruasa.

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