To accelerate Covid-19 vaccination rates in the country, Kenya plans to deny the unvaccinated access to public services. This would affect everything from schools and public transport to immigration services and visiting hospitals and prisons.
“Everybody seeking in-person government services should be fully vaccinated and proof of vaccination availed by December 21st, 2021,” said the health minister, Mutahi Kagwe, in a public address on 21 November.
The move is surprising considering that only 4.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated and Kenya rescinded an earlier directive mandating that government employees receive the jab or face disciplinary action.
“It’s very important that we are not left behind in this world order especially because we are a tourism destination of choice,” Kagwe said.
Monica Njeri has twice sought the vaccine at a public hospital and has twice had to leave still unvaccinated.
“On the queue, you still see people arriving after you and jumping the line to get vaccinated. Then once it’s your turn they tell you they have no more vaccines. It’s very unfair,” she said.
The measures mean she will no longer be able to use public transport between her home and workplace and to see her children.
“How will I go see my kids? Two of them are in boarding school,” she said.
Even if she gets vaccinated in the next few weeks, Njeri does not have a smartphone with which to get the digital vaccine certificate that the Kenya government is issuing as proof.
With the new move, Kenya joins a number of countries in the world to make vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory for all citizens. But Indonesia, for example, has administered 224.9 million jabs of the vaccine to its population of 273.5 million. Kenya has administered only 6.5 million jabs to its population of 53.8-million.
Elsewhere in Africa, the Zimbabwean government mandated vaccination for its 500 000 employees and Uganda requires it for health workers and teachers, and won’t reopen schools, which closed in March last year, until all staff members are vaccinated.
South Africa is considering vaccine mandates for specific events such as the Justin Bieber concert slated for next year, among other measures.
The Kenyan health minister justified the new directive saying that more than 95% of the severe Covid-19 cases filling up the hospitals are unvaccinated people. He then announced a 10-day vaccination drive starting on 26 November to inoculate 95% of its citizens. The vaccination effort has been plagued with vaccine and syringe shortages.
Should the government fail to increase vaccination before December 21, citizens may find themselves facing the security forces who enforced earlier Covid-19 measures such as lockdowns and curfews. At least 20 deaths were connected to the police when it was charged with enforcing restrictions nearly two years ago.
On October 20, during the country’s Mashujaa (Heroes’ Day) celebrations, the health ministry announced a target of 10 million vaccinations administered by the end of 2021. That would cover fewer than 20% of the unvaccinated, whom the health minister will want to show proof of vaccination or be denied public services.
Njeri and other Kenyan citizens who might not get the vaccine are at risk of being left behind by the Kenyan government, much like when it locked the country down with no contingency plans for workers who could not work from home.
“I’ll keep trying, though,” said Njeri.