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FG says it’s set to receive COVID-19 vaccines tomorrow

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Govt to get 3.92m instead of promised 16m doses, says WHO, UNICEF, NPHCDA

After shifting the goal post from January ending to late February and then March, the Federal Government says it will take delivery of 3.92 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine tomorrow, March 2.

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A statement on February 1 by the National Primary Health Care Development (NPHCDA) had stated that Nigeria would receive 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines before the end of February, which would replace the initial 100,000 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech approved vaccines expected in the country.

However, NPHCDA, World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in a joint statement, yesterday, said tomorrow’s delivery would mark the first arrival of COVID-19 vaccine in the country and make Nigeria the next West African country to benefit from the COVAX Facility after Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire.

According to the statement, the arrival of the vaccine will enable the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to commence the vaccination of Nigerians in priority groups, starting with the frontline healthcare workers.

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Executive Director and Chief Executive of the NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said the arrival of this vaccine followed the commitment of the Federal Government through the guidance of the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.

He said: “We are fully prepared to receive and deliver the vaccine to eligible Nigerians as we have commenced the training of health workers and ensured that cold chain facilities are ready at all levels. We have a robust cold chain system that can store all types of COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with the required temperature. We are therefore confident we will have a very effective rollout of the vaccine, starting with our critical healthcare workers, who are in the frontline in providing the care we all need.”

He disclosed plans to vaccinate no fewer than 70 per cent of eligible Nigerians aged 18 years and above in four phases within two years.

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The delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine is part of an overall 16 million doses planned to be delivered to Nigeria in batches over the next months by the COVAX Facility, as part of an unprecedented global effort to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The COVAX Facility is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), with UNICEF as a key implementing partner.

UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Peter Hawkins, said: “The COVAX Facility, has worked exceptionally hard to ensure Nigeria gets the vaccine as soon as possible so it can start its vaccination programme to the largest population in Africa.”

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According to WHO Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, vaccines are critical in the battle against COVID-19. He urged Nigerians to continue in their effort at containing the virus, as the vaccination programme would take at least a year before it would be fully effective.

President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, told The Guardian yesterday that Nigeria was expecting a 20 per cent vaccine donation, adding that she would have to buy about 50 per cent to achieve immunity.

On the fear of vaccine apathy and hesitancy in the country as a result of the delay, Okhuaihesuyi said: “The slight delay in vaccine procurement may result in apathy. But with good publicity and continuous advocacy on the need to be vaccinated, the apathy can hopefully resolve.”

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A consultant pharmacist and former President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Olumide Akintayo, told The Guardian that Nigeria was destined to fail in the health sector because of low investments in Research and Development (R&D) with regards to drugs and vaccines.

“While the rest of the world is making progress by tapping into optimal competences of citizens in all its sectors, successive governments in Nigeria make the health sector a theatre of the absurd by imposing experts in failure on the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH),” he claimed.

Another consultant pharmacist and Medical Director, Merit Healthcare, Dr. Lolu Ojo, said he would not be surprised if the country failed to get the vaccines because of the tardiness the country is known for.

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“Our development strides have been a shame in the comity of nations. We all know and are ashamed of it. It is only government officials that are not ashamed. The purpose of governance has been turned upside-down. We need people of vision, integrity, capability and wisdom to run this nation.”

A virologist, vaccinologist, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Innovative Vaccines Limited, Abuja, and lead COVID-19 vaccine task team of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, Dr. Simon Agwale, said the main reason Nigeria had not received the COVID-19 vaccines pledged by the COVAX facility was because of the current global vaccine shortages.

He, however, said it was unfortunate that despite the difficulties in accessing COVID-19 vaccines and the emergence of variants, Nigeria was still not planning local vaccine development and manufacturing.

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He described Nigeria as one of the few countries in Africa blessed with experts that could develop vaccines if only the government could provide the required funding.

A public health physician and Executive Secretary, Enugu State Agency for the Control of AIDS (ENSACA), Dr. Chinedu Idoko, said: “These things could sometimes be difficult and not come easily and exactly as expected. I believe the processes of having these vaccines on the ground are steady work in progress and have not been abandoned.

“Sustained logistics are needed to have the vaccine available to Nigerians. There may be a need for adjustments and further demands here and there and this is what we’re experiencing.”

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