Shortage of rotavirus vaccine hits hospitals

A nurse gives the rotavirus vaccine to a baby during a program to start vaccination against rotavirus. PHOTO | AFP

Health facilities are facing a shortage of rotavirus vaccine, which is causing them to turn away young children, leaving them at risk of diarrhea and death.

A recent spot check has revealed that both public and private healthcare centers across the country have been facing a stock-out of the monovalent rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix, for the past month. This is despite the government’s recent launch of universal health coverage, which was intended to guarantee access to medical services for all.

Rotavirus is a very contagious virus that causes severe diarrhea among children under the age of five and has no curative drugs. The shortages are a blow to national health services as the systems scramble to regain ground lost on routine childhood immunisations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read: How diseases killing Kenyans have changed in 60 years

“The rotavirus vaccine is currently out of stock, and we are not sure when we will have it back at our hospital. The situation is the same in almost every health facility. The country does not manufacture rotavirus so the issue must be with the donors,” a doctor at Medipoint Hospital in Nairobi told this publication on January 4.

“We are aware of the situation surrounding the rotavirus vaccine. We can only talk about next year,” said a nurse at Oasis Health Centre in Siaya County on December 26.

The shortage of the vaccines that started as early as December 2023, means that newborns and infants below 15 weeks will have to wait longer for the life-saving vaccine.

The Ministry of Health did not respond to questions on the severity of the vaccine shortage.

Rotavirus is a leading cause of severe diarrhea in young children. It is estimated to cause thousands of deaths, outpatient visits, and hospitalisations.

The World Health Organisation recommends all countries to implement rotavirus immunisation programmes.

Kenya introduced the vaccine in 2014 and it is administered in oral doses to infants at ages six, ten, and 14 weeks.

Read: How vaccines help to prevent drug resistance

The introduction of this vaccine is estimated to prevent over 60,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations among children under five years during the first 20 years of implementation.

The shortfall in the number of rotavirus vaccine doses comes at a time when the country is also experiencing shortages in Tuberculosis drugs due to supply chain constraints.

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