As Kenya races to inoculate its population of 54 million against COVID-19, new claims have surfaced alleging that some health workers in the nation’s public hospitals are administering fake COVID-19 vaccines to unsuspecting citizens – and making them pay for it.
Under Kenya’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, which is supported by the global COVAX initiative, citizens are guaranteed to receive doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine free of charge in accredited health facilities across the East African nation. But as a vaccine shortage looms, reports have surfaced that health workers in public hospitals are exploiting eager Kenyans seeking to get the jab by not only making them pay for their dose — which is illegal — but then proceeding to inject them with water.
Speaking during a televised address on Thursday, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of Health, Muthai Kagwe, warned people against paying for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I want to warn the country and Kenyans at large that vaccination is free, and nobody should be charging you for it,” said Kagwe. “Such exercises are illegal, and chances are that you are not being vaccinated with proper vaccines. There is every possibility that you are even being vaccinated with water and paying for it.”
Kenya’s Ministry of Health currently has 622 approved COVID-19 vaccination centres across the nation – 319 of which are public institutions. Although the public institutions dabbling in the illegal sale of COVID-19 vaccines and administration of “water vaccines” remain undisclosed to the public, Kagwe emphasised that investigators from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) have “moved in on some facilities” and launched a criminal probe.
Kenya, which received just over 1 million doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine from the global COVAX initiative in March, has managed to administer an estimated 981,887 doses thus far - partially vaccinating less than 2 per cent of its total population. But the East African nation, which relies heavily on the COVAX initiative for its vaccine supply, is bracing itself for a vaccine shortage in the coming weeks as the Serum Institute of India (SII) temporarily halts vaccine exports to tend to the increased demand for COVID-19 vaccines in India.
With a vaccine shortage imminent, the chasm between demand and supply has created fertile ground for opportunists and criminal groups to attempt to disrupt Kenya’s vaccine efforts through infiltrating supply chains with falsified COVID vaccines for profit - a phenomenon INTERPOL warned nations of in December 2020.
“We saw this coming,” Mary, a nurse at Nairobi's Mbagathi Hospital who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely, told VICE World News. “From the moment we started vaccinating frontline workers and the elderly in Phase 1, we had so many persons who were ineligible for Phase 1 arriving at the hospital gates offering us bribes to bypass the queue. It was chaos.”
Mary continued: “From then, we warned that if these vaccines aren’t kept in good security and if hospital staff are not able to resist the temptation of money then it is going to get messy and we are going to start seeing staff illegally selling the real vaccine to the middle and upper classes who are willing to offer a lot of money for it, and others conning people with fake vaccines like the water vaccine we are hearing of now. Just as we expected we are already seeing this, and we are yet to reach the end of Phase 2.”
In his address, Kagwe also announced that the government is monitoring the sale of fake negative COVID certificates on the black market that people are using to travel with. In November 2020, 21 Kenyans were arrested upon arriving in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after being found in possession of forged COVID certificates. Kenya was subsequently issued with a visa ban by the UAE.
Remarking on the thriving black market for falsified COVID-19 vaccines, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of the World Health Organisation, has urged the public to abstain from purchasing vaccines and report the suspicious sale of vaccines to authorities.
“Falsified COVID-19 vaccines pose a serious risk to global public health and place an additional burden on vulnerable populations and health systems,” WHO said in a statement. “WHO requests increased vigilance within the supply chains of countries and regions likely to be affected by these falsified products.”