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Top official gets it wrong: Kenya nowhere near seventh in world for Covid-19 vaccination

Chief administrative secretary Mercy Mwangangi cut an elated figure when she compared Kenya’s vaccination progress to other countries. But the data gives a different picture.

This article is more than 2 years old

  • Two months into Kenya’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout, top health official Dr Mercy Mwangangi said the country was seventh “on the leaderboard of vaccination in the world”.

  • But global health experts said the claim was “difficult” to make, and any ranking should be based on the percentage of the population that had been vaccinated.

  • By this measure, Kenya is 120th in the world for vaccination per 100 people.

Amid concerns about vaccine hesitancy in Kenya, on 4 May 2021 the government said it had administered jabs to 887,000 people, two months into its Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

In March Kenya received a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the global Covax initiative. The Indian government donated another 100,000 shots.

But on 24 April, the health ministry said the second dose of the vaccine would be delayed due to shortages. The period between doses would now be 12 weeks, not eight. 

In a briefing that day, a top health official compared Kenya’s progress to other countries. “Kenya is proudly number seven in the whole world in terms of vaccination. I don’t know if we all knew that,” Dr Mercy Mwangangi, the ministry’s chief administrative secretary, said.

“We are actually on the leaderboard of vaccination in the world ... and that is data and statistics that we can share with you.” 

Mwangangi added that the country intended to improve on this position. “We are happy with what we are doing as government,” she said.

What are the metrics? 

Kenya’s popular Citizen TV station posted a video of Mwangangi’s briefing on social media. The clip has been viewed more than 155,000 times on Twitter and 6,700 times on Facebook.

But there was scepticism about the official’s claim. “Do these people know the data to disprove this is very easily available?” one Twitter user said, sharing screenshots from Oxford University’s Our World in Data website.

Another asked Mwangangi: “What are the metrics we are using here?” More users asked Africa Check to look into the claim. So we did.

Morocco leads vaccination in Africa 

We have reached out to the chief secretary for details on the data she used to make the claim. We will update this report with her response.

We then asked a team of global health experts at the Meedan Digital Health Lab what would be the best data to check the claim. They also directed us to Our World in Data, which uses data from government sources.

We also asked the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa.

“It might be difficult to make this claim,” Kate Ribet, a communications officer focused on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout at the WHO office, told Africa Check.

She too recommended Our World in Data, saying it was a “good resource [for data] on global vaccination”.

Ribet said that while the top vaccinating countries had reached the tens of millions, the only African country to come close to this was Morocco, which had administered about 9 million vaccine doses. 

“It depends which parameters Kenya is using to determine this position,” she said.

Ribet also shared a WHO dashboard that tracks daily vaccine distribution and administration in Africa. It shows that, on 29 April, Kenya ranked fifth for absolute numbers of vaccines administered. (Note: We have not been able to access data for the day the official made the claim.)

But when vaccination is considered as a ratio of the total population, the country dropped to 40th of the 47 African countries on the dashboard. 

New York Times tracker ranked Kenya at 120th 

Ribet said the generally “more useful picture” would be to know how many doses had been administered for every 100 people, and how many people had been “fully vaccinated”. 

Why do rates – and not absolute numbers – matter?

Prof Susan Goldstein, a public health expert, is the deputy director of the Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science, a research unit of the South African Medical Research Council. The unit is housed at the Wits School of Public Health at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“It is critical to talk about a rate as it is then possible to compare countries – just comparing numbers doesn’t make sense because countries vary hugely by size of population,” Goldstein told Africa Check.

She directed us to the US-based New York Times newspaper’s Covid-19 vaccinations tracker, which also uses information from Our World in Data. 

According to the tracker, Kenya was not even in the top 100 countries for jabs per 100 people when the Mwangangi made the claim.

As of 5 May, Kenya was 120th, with only 1.6% of its population having received just one dose of a vaccine.

The top 10 countries, led by Seychelles and Israel, have vaccinated 43% to 69% of their population.

How are the metrics calculated?

Health experts at the Meedan Digital Health Lab said that “when noting vaccine rates per country, it is possible to use data analysis to produce specific calculations about that country”. This helps us work out what regions have the fastest vaccine rollouts.

There are several ways to measure how many vaccine doses have been administered, Meedan told Africa Check.

These include measuring the daily number of Covid-19 vaccinations per 100 people. “An example of this metric would be noting that as of 25 April 2021, Our World in Data reports that Nigeria has given 0.57 doses of vaccines per 100 people. In Chile, on the other hand, 73.92 vaccine doses have been administered per every 100 people,” Meedan said.

Another commonly used measure is the “percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of vaccine”. This indicates what percentage of people still need to be vaccinated for a country to achieve herd immunity.

Meedan added that it was not yet known how much immunity was needed to reach herd immunity as it varied by disease, region, vaccine types and efficacy, and other factors.

Some scientists believe it may be impossible to achieve Covid-19 herd immunity due to the uneven vaccine rollout across the world, among other reasons.

Conclusion: Kenya not even close to being seventh-best vaccinating country 

Dr Mercy Mwangangi, the Kenyan health ministry’s chief administrative secretary, recently claimed the country was seventh in the world for Covid-19 vaccination. She publicly promised to provide the data for this claim, but has not yet done so. 

Available data from the World Health Organization and others does not support the claim. And experts told Africa Check that absolute numbers were not of much value when understanding vaccine rollout.  

The effectiveness of vaccination is better calculated as a rate of doses for every 100 people – a percentage of a country’s population. 

WHO data shows that in Africa, Kenya is not even in the top 10 for vaccines administered per 100 people. Global data ranked Kenya 120th for the percentage of the population vaccinated. 

We therefore rate Mwangangi’s claim as incorrect.

Additional reporting Vincent Ng’ethe


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