Masks here to stay even with vaccine, medics say

Friday, February 5th, 2021 00:00 |
A police officer assists a boda boda operator to wear a mask during a past event of distribution of free masks in Naivasha. Photo/PD/file

Contrary to common belief, Kenyans should brace themselves to continue wearing masks and washing hands frequently, for a longer time even with the expected arrival of Covid-19 vaccine later this month.

This is because available vaccines have only been developed to slow down the virus and reduce the damage it causes in the body. 

“The vaccines have been developed to protect people from developing severe symptoms and dying. 

So, in essence, it is meant to having a fewer people being hospitalised and dying from Covid-19.

They are not the panacea,” Dr Willis Akhwale, chairman of the Taskforce Committee on Covid-19 Deployment told the People Daily yesterday.

Already Kenya has finalised arrangements to import 24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine through Covax initiative by end of this month.

The first batch of four million doses, to be supplied by Serum Institute of India, is expected in Nairobi in three weeks.


The AstraZeneca vaccine, the product of a joint effort between Britain’s Oxford University and Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) Wellcome Trust, is expected to retail at around Sh700 for a singe dose and Sh1,400 for a full dose.

But Akhwale says the drug would be free to frontline workers, people living with life-threatening conditions and individuals above 58 years.

He said a majority of Kenyans his committee had interacted with, had the perception the vaccines are therapeutic al. 

Discussing some of the challenges the committee is working on to see a successful vaccination campaign, Akhwale warned that studies had shown that the vaccine does not stop an infected person transmitting the virus even after receiving the jab.

Neither has any study been conducted to establish how long the vaccine remains effective in the body once an individual has been vaccinated.

The only guarantee for people to guard themselves, Akhwale says, is for them to continue wearing face masks, washing hands frequently, sanitising and social distancing.

“So there is no need for people to celebrate about the vaccine arriving in the country. Kenyans will have to continue with the new norm,” Akhwale stated.

The medic’s warning comes against the backdrop of heightened political activity in the country with various politicians either campaigning for or against the Building Bridges Initiative or laying the ground for 2022 political lobbying.

Kenyan politicians are known to discard Covid-19 rules such as wearing masks during public rallies.

And despite government warning, Kenyans have been streaming into bars, eateries, supermarkets and other social joints in droves, where social distancing is a myth.

With Kenya currently reporting fewer new cases of Covid-19, less than 100 daily, a majority of Kenyans long stopped wearing masks. The few who wear them, only do so to avoid arrest by police.

Akhwale also warns that his committee is careful on determining the number of doses the country should import due to the short shelf life of the vaccines.

The vaccines are expected in the country in three phases starting this month to May, with the government planning to hire about 23,000 healthcare workers to administer the jabs.

Anticipates challenges

Targeting at least 1.2 million people between this month and June, the government has already set up nine storage centres in Kitengela, Mombasa, Kisumu, Meru, Nyeri, Homa Bay, Eldoret and Nakuru, in anticipation for the arrival of the vaccines.

But the medic says the task force anticipates challenges. Emphasising on the importance of public awareness campaigns to make people accept the vaccines, Akhwale cites a case in Portland, Oregon, in the united States, where officials could not round up enough healthcare workers to get the jabs before the vaccines expired.

“Covid-19 vaccines have a short shelf life once they are thawed out for use. Hospitals and other healthcare providers would rather risk a dose going bad than give it to somebody who is not ready,” Akhwale opines. 

The Akhwale team has formed a sub-committee charged with monitoring whether the jab would be administered to people once a year or more, and collect data on effects of the vaccine on people.

More on News