In a report by Scott McLean, CNN examines Kenya’s struggle to cope under the strain of the Covid-19 Delta variant-fuelled fourth wave, as many residents choose not to take the vaccine over safety concerns and scepticism.
Mount Kenya hospital in Nyeri county has suffered the results of vaccine hesitancy, as it does not have enough room to take in new patients in intensive care. “When you ask why they didn’t get the jab, some of them, they’re told it’s not available. Others — the majority — they fear to have it, because they’ve heard of the issues,” explains Eudiah Wang’ombe, the hospital clinician who runs the facility.
“Why should I take something that I don’t know what it will do to my body?” asks a vendor, holding his baby son in his arms. Rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine and inaccurate stories of vaccinated people falling ill or dying after receiving the vaccine have fuelled the fear of the vaccine.
CNN learns that early stigma surrounding the virus, denial, general misinformation, and some traditional beliefs are also contributing to the vaccine hesitancy amongst the population.
Although there has been a sharp increase in demand for coffins, many coffin builders still say they would not take the vaccine. CNN spoke with a coffin builder who explained that some of the families who bought coffins told him their loved one were vaccinated, and thus believes that many people are dying from another disease.
In some Kenyan counties, the vaccination rate is less than 0.5%, while nationally, it is less than 2%. CNN hears that the government has now legally mandated civil servants to get vaccinated. Many people are doing self-medication at home, and many only seek medical attention once it is too late.
“We have more than 40 tribes, with different traditions, beliefs, and taboos,” Nyeri County Governor Mutahi Kahiga tells CNN. “I think with Covid-19, some of us are still in denial, they are still holding on to traditional beliefs that cut across Africa… that’s why we may be where we are.”
However, McLean learns that attitudes towards the vaccine are changing as the virus continues its deadly surge and people witness its lethal effects. “Death can convince me. If this can prevent me from dying, hopefully, then I’d rather take it,” 24-year-old Olendo Obondo told CNN.