The United Nations on Sunday defended its decision to accept free Covid-19 strikes for its staff in Kenya even though the government there has not completed vaccinations of its vulnerable citizens.
The offer, confirmed by UN and diplomatic sources, comes as Kenya battles a third severe wave of the virus and last week recorded the highest number of one-day deaths since the pandemic began.
The UN office in Nairobi (UNON), which has about 20,000 staff and staff, said it had accepted the national government’s offer for free AstraZeneca strikes but stressed that only those most at risk would be eligible.
“It is not a mass vaccination of all UN staff members and their dependents,” UNON spokesman Newton Kanhema told AFP on Sunday.
Registration opened Sunday for UN staff seeking the strike, with vaccinations set to begin on Tuesday.
Kenya is still in the early stages of inoculating its most vulnerable frontline workers against Covid-19.
The first doses were administered on 5 March. On March 19, the health ministry said 28,000 medical staff, teachers and security personnel had received their first blow of a two-dose regimen.
Earlier this month Kenya won about one million doses of AstraZeneca through Covax, a global vaccine-sharing scheme to provide coronavirus strikes in countries most in need.
A second batch of 100,000 vaccines was later donated by India, while a third shipment is expected in April.
Kanhema said it was “possible” that the vaccines intended for UN staff in Kenya came from the Covax batch.
“The UN has received staff members deployed around the world, and those staff members are just as vulnerable as anyone else. There is no other structure that can give them access to a vaccine,” he said.
“We have health workers at the clinic in the UN. They are front-line workers. If they get a vaccine, it is in line with what the Kenyan government is doing.”
In a letter to staff on March 18, the UN urged employees and their families to receive the “generous offer” of the Kenyan government as soon as possible.
– Overcrowded hospitals –
A Nairobi-based diplomat told AFP their embassy had also received the offer of free vaccines from the foreign ministry.
The ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
However the health ministry said on Sunday: “The vaccination plan remains unaffected and targets all persons residing in Kenya, including those serving in the diplomatic corps.”
The World Health Organization, a co-chair of the Covax scheme, declined to comment and addressed questions to UNON and the Kenyan foreign ministry.
Kenya has suffered nearly 2,000 deaths from the coronavirus, including 28 on Friday – its highest daily number to date.
Community transmission rates have risen to near record this month, and doctors warn hospitals are overcrowded.
“This is the worst time to get COVID-19. If you become seriously ill in need of a hospital bed with O2 bed or ICU, you will not find any in town,” said Dr. Ahmed Caleb, director of one of Nairobi’s leading private laboratories Lancet, he said Sunday.
Kenya registered 747 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, taking the total since the pandemic began a year ago to 120,910.
This story has been published by a wire agency source with no changes to the text. Only the title has been changed.
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