How negligence, bureaucracy by MoH made life-saving vaccines expire at JKIA

Push and pull by government agencies over the clearance of vaccines that arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in 2017 have seen the 6.1-ton consignment expire.

The consignment was that of pentavalent, a vaccine that protects mothers and children from at least five ailments considered to be deadly.

It is mainly found in public hospitals.

The “five-in-one” vaccine is made of five vaccines. It protects against Haemophilus influenza type B which causes meningitis and pneumonia; diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B and tetanus.

However, three years since its delivery, it will be destroyed after expiry having helped no single mother or child.

According to Daily Nation, the vaccine consignment was stored at JKIA’s Swissport but was never released because of unpaid clearance token fees.

In November, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) sent a letter to Health Director-General Patrick Amoth revealing that the vaccines had already expired.

In the letter headlined “Collection and Disposal of Expired Vaccines at JKIA Swiss Port Storage”, PPB said that the vaccines should be destroyed since they are occupying a lot of space.

“These are lifesaving vaccines that should be treated with urgency once they get into the country but because of bureaucracy by the clearing agency, we have to dispose of 6.1 tonnes of vaccines. Very unfortunate,” Drug Crime and Investigations head at PPB Dennis Otieno says in the letter.

Swissport says that it wrote to the Ministry of Health years back regarding the clearance of the vaccines but there was no response at all.

“The management of Swissport requested for products to be cleared and disposed of since they were occupying space, with no commitment of any action by the consignee,” PBB said in the letter.

The pentavalent vaccine had been donated by the Serum Institute India and expired a year ago in July 2019. Usually, it is administered to children aged six, 10 and 14 weeks respectively.

Mothers are also immunized before or during pregnancy but for the last one year, it has been in shortage in many public hospitals.

For example, a tetanus jab must be administered to the mother if she had not received it in the last 10 years.

It not only protects the mother but the newborn as well from the deadly disease. Medics say that at least six doses of tetanus in a lifetime protects one from the disease.

During pregnancy, the mother is immunized against Tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis (Tdap) between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.

In cases where it was not administered during pregnancy, it is administered to the baby immediately after birth.

Now PPB is apprehensive that failure to dispose of the vaccine properly could lead to negative health complications.

The vaccine donation which was made through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), is given to 73 of the poorest countries in the world to prevent child mortality.

So far, it pentavalent has protected about 467 million lives as at 2018.