Kenya’s journey towards human vaccines self-sufficiency through the establishment of a Human Vaccine Production facility has kicked off in earnest with the development of an action plan and identification of physical facilities to host the plant.

A meeting between Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and the committee on human vaccine manufacturing under the chair of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) on Monday reviewed the action plan for the establishment of the facility whose roll out will be implemented in three phases.

Speaking at the meeting held at the new KEMSA facilities in Embakasi Nairobi, Kagwe said the government has already initiated discussions with vaccine manufacturers as Kenya seeks to build its own capacity for the production of human vaccines to ensure it becomes self-sufficient in its vaccine needs.

“There has been a lot of interest in this initiative by the Kenyan government. We need to remain on our path regardless of what comes up. In the next 12 months, we need to get this job done” observed the CS.

The Health CS says the government is already engaging international partners involved in vaccine manufacturing to allow for technology transfer as it seeks to enhance the country’s capacity in the area of Research and Development.

The first phase of the project that includes setting up of basic infrastructure is on course with the identification of physical space within Kemsa premises in Embakasi set to host the fill and finish facility. This phase, expected to be completed within a period of 9-12 months, will include refurbishment of the facility as well as the installation of the fill and finish line. The second phase, expected to cover a period of 18-24 months, will see the establishment of a full-fledged bulk antigen production facility. The third phase will revolve around capacity building with a focus on research and development and see the establishment of a vaccine/biological products research and development centre.

“We have engaged substantially with Vaccine manufacturers, founders of SA Jansen Institute (Aspen) as well as with the government of South Africa and they have expressed interest in working with us. We would be happy to work with Johnson and Johnson,” said CS Kagwe.

Kagwe took the chance to challenge the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority and the Kenya Medical Research Institute to be more proactive in addressing the health challenges facing the country noting that in matters health, time is of utmost essence.

“We must operate with a very futuristic approach. We must look into the future and see expansion possibilities and ensure that our projects are completed on time.  As a Ministry, we must learn to work comprehensively with institutions collaborating and building on existing synergies,” said the CS.

The team presented the cabinet secretary with a concept note, budget and selected portfolio of vaccines to be manufactured for approval within the next nine months. In anticipation of Kenya’s transition for support for childhood vaccines, the Technical Working Committee under the chairmanship of Lt. Colonel (Rtd) Dr. Daniel Mbinda who is also the board chair for Kemri, proposed consideration for immediate production of vaccines against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pneumococcal pneumonia, rotavirus and hepatitis B which currently do not have patents.

The ministry will also be expected to establish a legal structure similar to KEVEVAPI to be called Kemri Biologics and Vaccines Institute (Kemri BioVac). It will also follow-up with major vaccine manufacturers for partnership on technology transfer and supply of bulk Vaccines.

The Kenya Medical Supplies Authority is also working on enhancing its cold chain capacity to allow for storage of vaccines at temperatures of up to -80 degrees at its new go downs in Embakasi that are near completion.

The latest development comes in the wake of a biting global shortage of covid-19 vaccines occasioned by delays in delivery from Covax, a global coalition tasked with administering vaccines to lower- and middle-income countries. The shortage has slowed ongoing mass vaccination drives especially across many African countries.