At least 831,000 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are targeted for the third dose of tetanus vaccine during a campaign to be rolled out Monday.
Those targeted are in 11 counties — Kilifi, Mombasa, Meru, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Baringo, West Pokot, Turkana, Samburu and Narok — which have been marked as high-risk areas, where women are likely to contract tetanus and transmit it to unborn babies.
“The goal of the maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination is to reduce the cases to less than one case of neonatal tetanus per 1,000 live births in every sub-county,” Health Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri said. The campaign will run until May 26.
The Catholic Church had opposed the vaccine, claiming it has been laced with an antigen that could cause sterility in women and had threatened to rally its members in boycotting it.
However, the position of the church on the vaccine was not clear by Sunday.
The second dose of the vaccine was administered last year amid a major controversy. But the ministry of Health, World Health Organization and Unicef have dismissed the church’s claim and declared the jab safe.
The government presented tests it conducted at the National Quality Control Laboratory that gave the vaccine a clean bill of health.
While launching the campaign in Nairobi on Thursday last week, Dr Muraguri reiterated that the vaccine is safe and that it is the same used across the world.
“It is a safe certified vaccine. To top it, we have the necessary systems of the vaccines. The issues we went through last year were unfortunate but good because they made us more vigilant,” Dr Muraguri said.
And it emerged that the Catholic Church did not send a representative to a stakeholders meeting before the roll-out of the vaccine despite being invited.
An email trail seen by the Daily Nation shows while others confirmed attendance, there was no response from the church.
The church was also conspicuously missing from last week’s meeting. But recently, Catholic archbishop John Cardinal Njue asked Kenyans to reject the vaccine as well as GMO foods, claiming that certain powers with a hidden agenda were behind them.
While addressing residents of Limuru during the first Arch-Diocese of Nairobi Farmers Day last month, Cardinal Njue maintained the tetanus vaccine is laced with a substance that lowers women’s fertility, claiming investigations had proven that the jab is harmful.
“I ask you to keep away from the vaccine and please heed our warning. We are what we eat, if you eat rubbish you become rubbish, let us also keep off GMOs,” Cardinal Njue said.
Asked if the church would support the vaccine drive this time around, Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops Chairman Stephen Karanja declined to respond.
There will be 20,000 vaccination centres with about 42,000 health workers and 24,000 volunteers.