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Medical personnel at the Nairobi National Vaccine Depot checks on Kenya's first batch of Covid-19 vaccines on March 4.
Medical personnel at the Nairobi National Vaccine Depot checks on Kenya’s first batch of Covid-19 vaccines on March 4. Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Kenya will run out of Covid-19 vaccines “anytime between the end of May and the first week of June,” according to the chair of Kenya’s vaccine taskforce.

“We have used up 91% of our doses,” Dr. Willis Akhwale said.

The vaccine campaign was launched at the beginning of March prioritizing frontline essential health workers, teachers, people over the age of 58 and security personnel. But less than 2% of Kenya’s population of more than 52 million have had their first shot, according to Our World in Data.

The East African nation had received just over 1 million of the 3.6 million AstraZeneca doses promised by the global vaccine-sharing alliance COVAX by May, that’s less than half of the vaccines Kenyan officials were expecting. The Health Ministry had initially planned to administer second doses after eight weeks. But in April, they pushed this back to 12 weeks.

COVAX — the initiative that provides discounted or free doses for lower-income countries — is largely reliant on India’s vaccine manufacturers. But with India facing its own crisis, it’s halted all vaccine exports.

On Monday the executive director for UNICEF — which distributes vaccines for COVAX — urged EU states and G7 nations to share their doses.

“G7 nations and ‘Team Europe’ group of European Union Member States could donate around 153 million vaccine doses if they shared just 20 percent of their available supply over June, July and August”, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

“Sharing immediately available excess doses is a minimum, essential and emergency stop-gap measure, and it is needed right now,” she added.

The call echoes WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who last week said wealthy countries should reconsider plans to vaccinate children against Covid-19 and instead donate their shots to poorer nations.

High- and upper-middle income countries represent 53% of the world’s population, but have received 83% of the vaccines, while low- and lower-middle income countries — which account for 47% of the global population — have received just 17% of the vaccines, according to new WHO data.

“Yes, vaccines are reducing severe disease and death in countries that are fortunate enough to have them in sufficient quantities, and early results suggest that vaccines might also drive down transmission,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “But the shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic.”

G7 leaders are due to meet in the UK next month. By then, COVAX will find itself 190 million doses short of its planned target, according to UNICEF.

Doctors in Kenya say a vaccine shortage will cost lives. Kenyans eager to get vaccinated have been turned away from vaccine centers in recent week after a number of hospitals and facilities ran out of doses. The country has recorded over 3,000 deaths in total during the pandemic, Health Ministry data shows.

As a result of the shortage, the government is working on securing 30 million Johnson and Johnson doses by August.

Though the first African countries started vaccinating their populations in early March, the World Health Organization says fewer than 1% of global vaccinations have been carried out on the continent and that at least eight African countries have exhausted their supplies from COVAX.

Last week the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a Covid-19 variant first identified in India has now spread to six African nations. Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda have reported the B.1.617 strain that is fueling India’s crippling second wave and which initial studies show spreads more easily.

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