BACKGROUND: Maternal immunization is a key strategy for reducing morbidity and mortality associated with infectious diseases in mothers and their newborns. Recent developments in the science and safety of maternal vaccinations have made possible development of new maternal vaccines ready for introduction in low- and middle-income countries. Decisions at the policy level remain the entry point for maternal immunization programs. We describe the policy and decision-making process in Kenya for the introduction of new vaccines, with particular emphasis on maternal vaccines, and identify opportunities to improve vaccine policy formulation and implementation process.
METHODS: We conducted 29 formal interviews with government officials and policy makers, including high-level officials at the Kenya National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, and Ministry of Health officials at national and county levels. All interviews were recorded and transcribed. We analyzed the qualitative data using NVivo 11.0 software.
RESULTS: All key informants understood the vaccine policy formulation and implementation processes, although national officials appeared more informed compared to county officials. County officials reported feeling left out of policy development. The recent health system decentralization had both positive and negative impacts on the policy process; however, the negative impacts outweighed the positive impacts. Other factors outside vaccine policy environment such as rumours, sociocultural practices, and anti-vaccine campaigns influenced the policy development and implementation process.
CONCLUSIONS: Public policy development process is complex and multifaceted by its nature. As Kenya prepares for introduction of other maternal vaccines, it is important that the identified policy gaps and challenges are addressed.