UK helps Kenya prepare to roll-out COVID-19 vaccine

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Commuters wear face masks as they ride in a public transportation bus before a curfew as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Nairobi

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Britain said on Wednesday it was helping Kenya prepare to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Astrazeneca and Oxford University, as African nations race to ensure their populations are inoculated.

Later on Wednesday, Kenya said it had confirmed two cases of the new COVID-19 variant first seen in South Africa, which health authorities there have said might be responsible for a recent jump in infections there.

The East African nation has ordered 24 million doses of the vaccine and it expects delivery of the shots to start in the second week of February.

"It is for us not just our moral duty, but in the British national interest to see Kenyans vaccinated just as soon as we physically, logistically can," British foreign minister Dominic Raab told a news conference during a visit to Nairobi.

Britain has provided technical assistance to Kenya's health ministry to help ensure the vaccine "gets to those who need it just as quickly as we physically possibly can", Raab said, without offering more details.

The Kenya state medical research institute (KEMRI) has been carrying out trials of the vaccine locally but it has not released the results of the study yet.

Kenya's government has ordered the vaccines through an African Union (AU) initiative aimed at ensuring African nations are not left behind, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe has said.

Shots will also be imported directly, he said.

African countries will pay between $3 and $10 per vaccine dose to access 270 million COVID-19 shots secured this month by the AU, according to a draft briefing on the plan prepared by the African Export-Import Bank.

Kenya has reported 99,444 cases of COVID-19 infection after 1.13 million tests. It has reported 1,736 deaths.

Patrick Amoth, acting director general of health at the Ministry of Health, said the two men who tests showed had the new South African COVID-19 variant had since left the country.

He did not say where the infected men were tested or whether they had been notified.

"This was picked (up) because of our heightened surveillance system. These two gentlemen have since gone back to their country. At the point of picking them (up), they were all asymptomatic," he told a news conference.

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri, Editing by Timothy Heritage)