Kenya: vaccine requirements violate rights

(Nairobi) – Kenyan authorities should change measures requiring anyone requesting government services to be fully immunized in order to avoid violating basic rights.

The proposed measures, announced less than a month ago, will go into effect on December 21, 2021. Given that around 10 percent of adults in Kenya had been vaccinated by the end of November, based on figures from the Ministry of Health , the requirement risks violating the rights to work, health, education and social security for millions of Kenyans.

“Although the government has an obligation to protect its people from serious threats to public health, the measures must be reasonable and proportionate,” said Adi Radhakrishnan, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Immunization coverage depends on availability and accessibility, and new government measures could prevent millions of Kenyans from accessing essential government services.

On November 21, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, announced that starting December 21, authorities will require anyone requesting government services to provide proof of full vaccination against Covid-19. The services concerned will include public transport, education, immigration, hospitals and prison visits. Proof of vaccination will also be required to enter national parks, hotels and restaurants.

Kenya does not have a sufficient supply of Covid-19 vaccines to ensure that all adults can be vaccinated before the deadline set by the Ministry of Health, due to a lack of doses due to inequalities in vaccines and to unequal global distribution.

Kenya’s vaccination campaign began in March with priority given to health workers, teachers, security personnel and people over 58 years old. Eligibility extended to all adults from June. Currently, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Sinopharm vaccines are available in Kenya. However, data from the Ministry of Health indicates that the supply is limited. Kenya, with an estimated adult population of 27.2 million and a total population of 55 million, has received around 23 million doses as of December 11 since the start of the vaccination program.

Kenya, like other low- and middle-income countries, especially in Africa, has struggled to access enough vaccines for its people. More than 80 percent of the world’s vaccines went to G20 countries, while low-income countries received only 0.6 percent of all vaccines, as the World Health Organization reported. health (WHO). Kenya received just 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March to begin the vaccination program for its adult population of 27.2 million.

The vast majority of vaccines have not been distributed equitably around the world, as noted, due to the concentration of manufacturing capacity in a few countries and the unwillingness of the nations and pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccine to share the technology. vaccine with other relevant WHO manufacturers and technology pools.

UN human rights experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, have criticized this vaccine hoarding behavior by rich countries. Experts said that “there is no room for nationalism in the fight against this pandemic. This pandemic, with its global scale and enormous human cost, requires a concerted, human rights-based and courageous response from all States. Experts have also expressed concern that some governments are trying to get vaccines only for their citizens, which they say would be counterproductive to the goal of mass vaccination.

Kenya’s November 21 vaccine needs announcement does not provide details of how these new measures will be implemented and enforced, or alternative procedures for those who are not eligible for vaccinations or have access to the necessary resources. medical exemption, thus risking an arbitrary denial of access to services. When asked for further details, Minister Kagwe said: “[a]To the extent that we apply these measures, the responsibility for implementing these measures will lie with individuals. “

Kenyan media have reported Kenyans’ concerns over the government’s decision to release its directive with only one month’s notice. According to a frequently asked questions guide on Covid-19 vaccinations published by the Department of Health, the requirement to be considered fully vaccinated depends on the number of doses required for the type of vaccine used.

The majority of vaccines currently available in Kenya require two doses for a complete vaccination, with the second dose being given 4 to 12 weeks after the first, depending on the type of vaccine. So it’s likely that even people who get their first injection before the December 21 deadline will still face restrictions.

The Kenyan government has said the new policy aims to persuade more people to get vaccinated. “It is becoming increasingly evident that as countries fight the pandemic, there is an increasing emphasis on the need to vaccinate more and more people,” Minister Kagwe said in the policy announcement.

Under international human rights law, the Kenyan government has a duty to guarantee the right to health for all, without discrimination. It should promote vaccination by providing transparent information about the benefits and risks of the vaccine to a person’s health. Requiring proof of vaccination to access public services can be a powerful incentive for people to get vaccinated, but the way it is done should also take into account the many reasons why a person may not be able to receive the vaccine. vaccine on time, Human Rights Watch said.

A policy of reasonable immunization requirements proportionate to the stated public health objective should include accommodations so that unvaccinated people can still obtain essential services, such as health care, without endangering themselves or them. others.

The Kenyan government’s human rights obligation to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are available and accessible to all is severely compromised by the failure of high-income governments to collaborate globally and share technology to increase vaccine production. For more than a year, efforts to promote equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and therapies by waiving the provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”) have been blocked by high-income countries.

All governments have an obligation to cooperate internationally, not to interfere with the ability of other countries to meet their human rights obligations, and to share the benefits of the scientific research they fund, Human said. Rights Watch.

The Kenyan government also has an obligation to ensure that any restrictive policies or measures do not arbitrarily prevent people from accessing essential services or meeting their basic needs. The right to health includes the obligation to prevent and control epidemic diseases, for which generalized vaccination is an important tool. But the right to health applies to everyone, regardless of their vaccination status. The mandate of vaccines should be designed with special attention to the social, political and economic barriers that people may face; including vaccine availability and accessibility issues.

“While vaccination mandates can be useful, they need to be implemented as part of a broader public health strategy that emphasizes accessibility of vaccines and other preventive measures for Covid-19 “said Radhakrishnan. “A vaccination warrant should not arbitrarily create unreasonable burdens on a population group or disproportionately infringe human rights. “

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