Kenya Inside Ministry of Health top secret Covid-19 vaccine smuggling racket

Corrupt Ministry of Health officials have established an intricate network of cartels that are selling donated Covid-19 vaccines for as much as Sh20,000 per vial, a Sunday Nation investigation has revealed. According to Daily Nation reported.

The network specifically targets the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is preferred by most Kenyans who do not want to make a second visit to vaccination centres to get the second dose, as they would were they to get AstraZeneca or Pfizer inoculation.

The Sunday Nation investigation has also discovered that most of the vaccines circulating in the black market are smuggled to Nairobi from government facilities in the north-eastern region. The Ministry of Health has sent thousands of Johnson & Johnson vials to this region because, it reasoned, the lifestyles of the residents and the long distances to vaccination centres would have led to a high second-dose default rate.

Our team of reporters obtained video and photographic evidence of transactions using secret recorders in an investigation that raises questions about government vaccination figures, as every dose that is smuggled from a government facility is recorded as having been administered. The corruption entreprise could also inhibit Kenya’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The elaborate cartel involves unscrupulous doctors and medical workers who have access to the Ministry of Health Chanjo system, where they key in false data on vaccination figures while sourcing for markets for the vials. At the source, the vaccines are sold for between Sh5,000 and Sh6,000 for vials of AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson, while vaccination certificates are sold for as little as Sh1,000. A vial of Johnson & Johnson has five doses and that of AstraZeneca has 12 doses, and these rake in upwards of Sh20,000 in the city.

The Sunday Nation investigation found many sellers offering legitimate documents already registered in the government system. It also encountered sellers in Isiolo and Marsabit who offered 10 vials of the vaccine.

To illustrate how easy it is to corrupt the Chanjo system and get a Covid-19 certificate, three individuals working undercover had their details registered hundreds of kilometers away from the capital city. They all got their certificates within 20 minutes.

However, it is the smuggling of Johnson & Johnson vials from north-eastern to the city that could raise audit questions with the donors. While announcing the distribution of the vaccines to the region earlier in the year, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe noted that the drug “is easily stored at two to eight degrees Centigrade during administration and can also be frozen at minus 20 degrees to ensure months of shelf-life”.

“It requires fewer logistical and operational costs and is expected to be of great utility in reaching mobile populations and primary healthcare facilities, where uptake of vaccines continues to be low,” he noted.

The Sunday Nation investigation took us 900 kilometres away from the city. Not many people travel to this part of the world, and recent insecurities in Marsabit County have worsened the situation. As we headed to North Horr from Marsabit to meet with our first smuggler, it became apparent that this was also a dangerous assignment.