Vaccine shortage in Kenya exposes thousands of babies to polio

Monday July 15 2019

A child receives polio vaccine at Hagadera Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Garissa County, in northern Kenya. Vaccine shortage exposes thousands of babies to polio. PHOTO | FILE | NATION.


By the end of Monday, Kenya’s birth registry would have recorded about 3,154 newborns.

However, none of these infants will receive an oral polio vaccine as the shortage for this and two other vital boosters enters the second month.

This comes even as the government prepares for a four-day polio vaccination campaign targeting 2.6 million children under the age of five in Mombasa, Tana River, Lamu, Kilifi, Marsabit, Isiolo, Turkana, Nairobi, Wajir, Garissa and Mandera.

Meanwhile, private hospitals have been making big bucks as Kenyans pay Ksh8,000 ($80) to Ksh20,000 ($200) to have their children vaccinated.

Based on the Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunisation (Kepi), the polio vaccine is given through the mouth in three doses and an injection at three and a half months.



The oral polio vaccine is given at birth and at six and 10 weeks. The babies then receive an injectable vaccine at 14 weeks.

The measles vaccine on the other hand is administered at nine and 18 months. Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by a virus.

The virus can attack person's brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis.

“I took my son to hospital and he received all the other vaccines except polio. The doctor gave me the option going with him unvaccinated or paying Ksh8,000 ($80) for the injection,” a distraught parent told the Nation.

The shortage has seen private hospitals provide baby friendly vaccines at an extra cost as parents are left without a choice.

Private hospitals stock government issued vaccines and baby friendly versions of the dose.

Baby friendly vaccines usually address pain and the general discomfort children experience whenever they are vaccinated.

On April 6, 2018, Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) scientists found live polio viruses in sewage samples from Eastleigh estate, Nairobi.

Health workers who spoke to the Nation yesterday said public hospitals have been experiencing a shortage of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and tetanus toxoid vaccines.

As a result, women with babies are usually turned away and requested to keep checking if the vaccines are available.

The shortages have been experienced since March, compelling doctors to exhaust all the doses in stock.


The grim situation exposes the lives of millions of children to life-threatening conditions or even death.

“We receive very few doses whenever we place orders. Last week, for example, we dispatched a small package of 400 doses of the oral polio vaccine to two sub-counties in Makueni. These doses cannot last a week,” a senior nurse at one of the sub-counties’ division of vaccines and immunisation told the Nation.

As a result of the shortage, only Level Five hospitals are getting the vaccines.

This is despite the Health Ministry saying it has put in place necessary measures to ensure the availability of the vaccines in all parts of the country.

In a statement issued last week, Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said there is enough supply of the vaccines in Kenya to last for two months.


Efforts to reach concerned government officials were fruitless as our calls went unanswered.

Health workers say whenever they make inquiries, store managers remain non committal.

“It is our duty to protect these children. It breaks my heart every time I turn away a mother without administering the vaccine to her child,” a nurse told the Nation.

A prolonged health workers’ strike last year cost the country its gains in immunisation coverage, with Kenya recording a 15-year low of 63 per cent.

According to the 2018 Economic Survey, the coverage dropped by eight per cent from 1,101,279 (69 per cent) immunised children in 2016 to 1,014,894 (63 per cent).