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Shortage of COVID-19 vaccine sparks fears of fakery, hoarding

By Chukwuma Muanya
01 April 2021   |   3:45 am
Shortage of COVID-19 vaccines has raised the stakes for persons who desperately want it, particularly for travel purposes. This has raised fears of fakery by elements in China...

Shortage of COVID-19 vaccines has raised the stakes for persons who desperately want it, particularly for travel purposes. This has raised fears of fakery by elements in China as well as hoarding and extortion by local officials.

The latest reports from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) indicate that just over 718,412 Nigerians and foreigners alike have received the first dose of COVID-19-vaccine. This figure is largely insignificant, compared to the challenge of quickly vaccinating 70 per cent of the 200-million strong population to achieve herd immunity.

The situation has raised questions regarding what is delaying the remainder of the 3.9 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines from being administered one month after delivery? How many states have exhausted their shares and what are the challenges for states that are yet to exhaust their shares? When is the second dose due for those who have received their first jabs, having regard to the standard medical duration between the first dose and second dose? When are the next batches of vaccines arriving?

The Guardian investigation revealed that delay in the arrival of the second dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is unavoidable because COVAX facility has notified Nigeria and other participating economies on delays for vaccines from Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca.

COVAX is co-led by Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and World Health Organisation (WHO). Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

According to a statement by the WHO, delays in securing supplies of SII-produced COVID-19 vaccine doses are due to the increased demand for COVID-19 vaccines in India, for which reason some first deliveries anticipated in March will now take place in April.

The Guardian reliably gathered that Nigerians might not get a second dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine until August. More troubling are reports of corruption, racketeering and slow uptake in the administration of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Guardian investigation revealed that most vaccinating centres have discarded the process of electronic registration before vaccination but were administering to Nigerians on the recommendation of the Chief Medical Director/Medical Directors.

This is coming as reports emerged that Nigeria hopes to receive up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this year through the African Union (AU). AU’s primary healthcare chief told Reuters yesterday, amid concerns about delayed deliveries of AstraZeneca shots. Nigeria, which has recorded 2,049 deaths from COVID-19 and began vaccinations in March, plans to inoculate 40 per cent of its people this year and another 30 per cent in 2022.

Last week, India – the world’s biggest vaccine maker – said it would prioritise domestic inoculations, prompting fears of delays in the export of AstraZeneca doses under the World Health Organization (WHO)-backed COVAX scheme to supply vaccines to poorer countries. In a separate development, Johnson & Johnson on Monday said it will supply the AU with up to 400 million doses of its single-dose vaccine beginning in the third quarter.

Faisal Shuaib, who heads NPHCDA, said Nigeria expects to initially receive 30 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in July through the AU.

“We are hoping that we will be able to get up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson this year. This is yet to be finalised but these are some of the advanced conversations that are going on between Nigeria and the African Union,” he said.

Nigeria previously said it had applied for 41 million doses of vaccines through the AU, comprising of Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots. But Shuaib said the proportion of AstraZenca doses was likely to be reduced by the delays.

Nigeria’s finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, has said the country will draw up a supplementary budget to cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccinations, for which no provision was made in the 2021 finance bill adopted in December. Shuaib said he expected the supplementary budget to be presented to lawmakers within the next two weeks.

A virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told The Guardian: “Nothing surprises me about Nigeria, If what we have seen on television (TV) is true, where Indians and their families are getting vaccinated while Nigerians who registered are told they are not on the priority list, then hoarding by officials is a logical step to have legitimate vaccines administered to the illegitimate people. I understand the report is being investigated. This is MAD = Medicine After Death. There must be a better foolproof mechanism to monitor who gets the vaccine on a daily basis. In fact, each time a person is vaccinated, it must be updated real-time on the NPHCDA dashboard, with the details of the recipients. Each person must bring a valid identity card to the vaccination centre so that a RAJIV is not registered as RAJI.

Reacting to the slow uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, Tomori said: “What is holding the delivery of the 3.9 million doses? It is our national and state levels of preparedness to roll out the vaccines. It has taken some states nearly two weeks from the date of receiving the vaccines to organise health workers training and other pre-roll out activities. We knew ahead of time that the vaccines were on the way. While some states acted with dispatch, others ‘dilly-dallied’ in the typical fashion of irresponsible governance and took longer to start vaccination activities. We even have a state that is using related #EndSARS activities as a cover-up for the inability to receive the vaccines. So we are not rolling out the vaccines as fast as we should because of our national attitude of relegating the important to the dustbin of inaction and putting the unimportant on the pedestal of national attention and acclaim.”

On the standard medical duration between the first dose and second dose of a vaccine, Tomori said: “It varies from 21 days to 28 days but with the scarcity of the vaccines and inability of manufacturers to meet demand, some countries are extending the interval to up to 12 weeks. This has two advantages, more people will get at least one dose and are not left unprotected. Second, it gives more time for manufacturers to deliver.”

When contacted, Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said she wouldn’t know whether the vaccines are being hoarded. But that a press release by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) yesterday (Saturday) has warned against unauthorised vaccines in circulation.

“I think NPHCDA can give these statistics because they are the statutory body that implements the vaccine used in the country.

National Chairman, Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN), Dr. Kingsley Chinedu Amibor, said he was surprised to hear that officials, probably government officials, maybe hoarding and selling the vaccines.

Amibor said COVID-19 is a killer disease; only the vaccines stand a chance of truly and finally stopping the infection/disease. He said it would therefore be unethical and inhuman for anyone in his right senses to hoard or try to sell vaccines meant to be given free to his/fellow human beings, for mere pecuniary gains. Amibor said the allegation should be investigated and if found to be true, those indicted must be sanctioned for lack of patriotism.

A virologist, vaccinologist and Chair, African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, Dr. Simon Agwale, said according to the World Health Organisation, countries prioritizing their own vaccines have put the world’s population and economy in crisis. “We have to learn from this experience and build our own capabilities for manufacturing vaccines. Based on this reality, the African Union and Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) will be convening a virtual conference on April 12th/13th to discuss expanding Africa’s vaccine manufacturing to achieve a new public health order. I hope this will serve as a catalyst to finally propel the production of our vaccines to address our unique health challenges.

President, African Fertility Society (AFS), Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, told The Guardian: “There is a need to adopt more proactive strategies to immunisation. Apart from the Primary Health centres, more health facilities and reputable pharmacies can be employed. The Federal Government needs to vote funds to buy more than the four million free vaccines from COVAX.

“Ghana got four million free vaccine and the Government funded six million. The Director of Africa CDC said it would take two years for almost 60 percent of Africa to be immunised. While in America and United Kingdom (UK) almost 70 percent of the population would be vaccinated by June 2021. We in Nigeria need to be more proactive getting vaccines to the people.”

On when likely the next batches of vaccines would arrive Ashiru said: “It is not clear what the plan is. Definitely, the various agencies must be working hard to get the next set of vaccines. The options are the COVAX, buying, and the Johnson and Johnson which does not require cold storage.”

Former President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Omede Idris, also a former Commissioner of Health Kogi State, blamed purveyors of misinformation for the slow uptake and poor response to COVID-19 vaccine, assuring that with more awareness, the situation will improve.

He said as of today, no state has exhausted her share of the vaccine.

A consultant pharmacist and medical director, MeritHealthcare, Lolu ojo, told The Guardian that it is wrong for anyone to sell the vaccine meant to help the nation contain a major health challenge.
MEANWHILE, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), UK’s broadcasting regulatory authority, has placed a fine of £125,000 (N65.6 million) on Loveworld Television Network, a station owned by popular Nigerian cleric, Chris Oyakhilome. Ofcom, in a report published yesterday, said the Loveworld Television Network, in a broadcast programme, exposed viewers to “inaccurate and potentially harmful claims about the Coronavirus without providing adequate protection for viewers”.

The agency noted that this is the second time in a year that the television network would breach the rules on “accuracy in news and harm in its coverage of the Coronavirus”.

It would be recalled that in 2020, Ofcom sanctioned the television network for airing programmes that claimed that COVID-19 was caused by 5G technology, a claim that had been debunked by medical experts.
Ofcom said the network’s 29-hour programme titled: “Global Day of Prayer” included comments that the COVID-19 vaccine is an attempt to administer “nanochips” on people in a bid to control and harm them.