Kitengela Depot, which is the main storage facility of vaccines in the country will be a beehive of activity in the coming weeks as the government distributes the Oxford-Astra Covid-19 jabs.

It is here where the 1.02 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines were immediately transported for storage after arrival on Tuesday night at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi.

Leaving nothing to chance, the vaccine was transported straight to the depot under police escort. According to the manufacturer, Serum Institute of India, the vaccines need a cold chain of between two and eight degrees Celsius which are normal refrigerator temperatures.

The depot is fitted with walk-in refrigerators where temperatures are controlled to keep the vaccines stable. This explains why it always feels like freezing whenever one approaches the entrance of the depot.

While normal refrigerator temperature sounds easily attainable, transportation of the jabs was not a light matter as the team of Dr Collins Tabu, who is the head of the National Vaccines and Immunization Program, and Dr Pacifica Onyancha, the Acting Director of Medical Services, who is also in charge of Promotive and Preventive Health was up to as late as 3am on Wednesday to ensure nothing went wrong.

Breaking the cold chain could compromise the integrity of the jabs affecting their effectiveness.

Dr Tabu explains that the vaccines arrived in a triple packaging with the outermost package insulated.

“Insulation makes sure there is no exchange of temperatures,” he says. The coldness stays in and the warmth out.

Both packaging – primary and secondary – are layered with frozen icepacks.

“Each of the packages also comes with a temperature monitor,” he notes.

The instructions on the outermost packaging (tertiary) indicate that it should not be stored in temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius or above 25 degrees Celsius.

To maintain the temperature range, Dr Tabu said it is important for the vaccines to be transported in refrigerated trucks –similar to those which ship perishables for export from the farm to the airport.

The Standard witnessed the unpacking of the vaccine at the Kitengela warehouse.

There were two layers of icepacks at the top and several more surrounding the primary packaging. The workers at the store removed the icepacks, unpackaged the vaccines to the smaller boxes which house 3,000 doses.

Dr Tabu explains that the unpacking was necessary as the huge tertiary packages could not fit in the cold rooms at the store. These boxes were then placed on shelves in the walk-in refrigerators.

Dr Tabu and Dr Onyancha had first examined the walk-in refrigerators where the vaccines would be stored before they were unpacked and put on shelves.

So what will happen when distribution starts?

“We will go through the same process. We will align icepacks around the primary packaging and we will also use refrigerator trucks,” he says.


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