Health experts have expressed optimism that more Kenyans will go for Covid-19 inoculation after a vaccine expected in the country next month received full approval.

Pfizer on Monday became the first Covid-19 vaccine to receive full approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Kenya has only 2.9 per cent of its adult population fully vaccinated and has been working to diversify the types of jabs in the country in order to have about 10 million people fully vaccinated by the end of the year.A nurse prepares to administer the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the Bissil Health Centre within Iibissil settlement, Matapato North of Kajiado county, Kenya August 23, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya© Thomson Reuters A nurse prepares to administer the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the Bissil Health Centre within Iibissil settlement, Matapato North of Kajiado county, Kenya August 23, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Pfizer-BioNTech submitted its request for approval in May this year and was later granted priority review in July 2021 by the FDA. The vaccine’s full approval means it has met the required threshold for quality and safety.

The FDA found the Pfizer vaccine to be 91 per cent efficient.

A letter from the FDA indicated the official marketing name for the Pfizer jab will be Cominarty and it will be packed in a two-millilitre glass vial.

The only other vaccine that has sought approval is Moderna, whose request was submitted in June this year. With Moderna and AstraZeneca already in the country, Kenya expects to receive 1.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in September.

While availability of the fully approved jab may lessen apathy among Kenyans, preference could hurt those waiting for specific vaccines.

Acting Health Director-General Patrick Amoth told the Nation yesterday that, while Pfizer-BioNTech’s approval is a mark of quality, all the vaccines under emergency use authorisation are safe and effective.

“Vaccine hesitancy is likely to reduce after FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine because people will now understand that all the necessary requirements have been met and the vaccine is safe for use,” explained Dr Amoth.

“Many people, especially where the approved vaccine has been deployed, will go for it because there is more data informing its safety and efficacy,” he added. Dr Amoth explained that FDA approval means the vaccine can now be marketed openly and clinicians can prescribe it.

“All vaccines go through the same process; only that Pfizer has had more data and therefore justifying the FDA’s approval. So far, all the vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorisation have proven to be effective. It is only a matter of time and most of them will also get full approval,” he explained.

While the Pfizer vaccine can now be commercialised, the Health ministry and the National Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment said the government’s plan to administer vaccines free of charge still stands.

“Our policy for deployment of vaccines in Kenya will remain as is. So far, vaccine distribution is driven by the national government and in case of any changes, the task force will inform the public,” explained Dr Amoth.

Public health specialist and National Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment member Richard Ayah yesterday told the Nation that commercialisation of Covid-19 vaccines is unlikely to happen as most vaccines are donor-funded.

“The immediate effect of the Pfizer approval is nothing because there is still a global shortage. Its approval will boost people’s confidence and more people will likely show up for Covid-19 vaccination,” he said.

Asked whether people are free to choose the vaccine type to go for, he said: “It is not an individual choice at the moment.”

Dr Ayah insisted that vaccines would only work after a large proportion of the population is inoculated, unlike the case with specific medicines, which treat an individual.

The more vaccinated people a country has, he explained, the lesser the severity of disease in the population and hence reduction in deaths.

Despite its approval, Pfizer comes with side effects, including sore arms, swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever.

US President Joe Biden stamped the approval and asked those who had been waiting for fully approved vaccines to show up for the jab.

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