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Hasty vaccine-mandatory order

By Editorial Board
27 December 2021   |   4:19 am
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are the latest arms of government to bar their employees and other persons from their premises unless......

A health worker administers dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. (Photo by Barbara DEBOUT / AFP)

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are the latest arms of government to bar their employees and other persons from their premises unless they can show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or medical evidence they are free of the disease.

The EFCC is reported to have sprung a surprise on its staff by confronting officers reporting for duty with the new rule that was enforced without prior notice. Indeed some vaccinated staff had to return home to fetch their vaccine cards. On its part, the NYSC Director-General, Brigadier-General Shuaibu Ibrahim, reportedly said that from next year, corps members must show evidence of vaccination to be enlisted in the scheme.

Months ago, Edo and Ondo states had given deadlines, the former September 15, 2021, the latter November 1, 2021, for anyone to access government premises or enjoy government services unless they are vaccinated.  In October, the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 (PSC) gave federal workers till December 1, 2021 to get vaccinated or show proof of non-infection, or be barred from work.  As the order was enforced in the ministries, departments, and agencies of the Federal Government, many staffers were locked out of work. The military authorities have, in line with the government’s ‘specific directives on compulsory  vaccination for  civil servants,’  also  issued a circular  advising  the officers and men of the forces and their relations ‘‘to go and  receive vaccine jabs.’’

The zeal of the various governments to get the population vaccinated is appreciated; it is in the safety of individual and public health. However, as it is said in popular parlance that a judge should, reasonably, not make a ruling in vain. The various governments appear to be issuing orders on vaccination ‘in vain.’ The reason is that there are not enough vaccinations to achieve this otherwise good intention. The Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) of the University College Hospital, Ibadan rightly advised the Federal Government to first concentrate its energies on making the vaccines available and accessible before making unenforceable pronouncements. We cannot agree more. 

Nigeria does not produce vaccines, hardly pays for them, but merely, in a beggarly fashion, depends largely on the generosity of donors. Those at the mercy of donors never can choose what, when, where, and how they receive. This explains, why, according to the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, about one million doses of AstraZeneca brand of vaccine expired before they could be administered. How could that happen if Nigeria was paying for and setting conditions on the products?

The first batch of  four million vaccine doses, manufactured in India, was reportedly given to Nigeria early March this year under the COVAX  (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access)  initiative  put together by UNICEF, WHO and other bodies, to facilitate equitable worldwide availability of  COVID-19 vaccines. It was free with minister Ehinare saying it ‘‘saves us scarce foreign exchange procurement cost.’’ Section 17 (3) (d) enjoins the State to ‘‘direct its policy toward ensuring that there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons.’’ In the overall intendment of the constitution, it is a moral imperative that government must strive to fulfill. Indeed this cannot be more urgent than in a time of a pandemic.

Ehinare reportedly excused the ‘dilemma’ of expired drugs as ‘‘not typical to Nigeria, but a situation in which many low and medium income countries find themselves.’’ That is a puerile explanation; it is not acceptable.   Why should a self-respecting country find comfort belonging to the group of the helpless of the earth?  Furthermore, even if so-called ‘medium and low-income countries are evidently victims of largely self-inflicted corruption-driven condition, it is a crying shame that this country should be one of them.

Late September 2021, the World Bank reportedly approved a $400 million credit for Nigeria to purchase vaccines. Months later, where are the vaccines?  Nigerians go to vaccination centres daily, spend valuable time waiting on queues for vaccines that never arrive. Virologist, Professor Oyewale Tomori said in a recent press interview that as at 18 of November 9,017,951, a mere 2.2 per cent of the population had been vaccinated. He lamented that ‘‘we still have an insufficient, inadequate, inconsistent and unpredictable supply of vaccines because Nigeria was fully dependent on supply through the COVAX facility.’’ He added: ‘Nigeria has made limited efforts to procure supply through other sources. You can only roll out what you have and we do not have enough vaccines.’’

The only reason this country is hostage to the goodwill of vaccine producers from elsewhere is that Nigeria does not produce its own. Ehinare is quoted to recommend that ‘‘Nigeria should produce its own vaccines, so that vaccines produced have at least 12 months to expire.’’ Well, he is part of government that can, and should make this happen. He said  that his ministry ‘‘is collaborating with stakeholders to fast-track the establishment of indigenous vaccine  manufacturing capacity…a goal we are pursuing with dedication.’’  Quite reassuring a statement; and Nigerians will hold him to his words. And if this is the only legacy he can leave as minister, it will be a huge achievement.

The idea is being bandied about that the private sector be involved in the administration of the vaccines for which , according to the Lagos State government, the private operators may charge an administrative fee (whatever that is intended to mean) of N6000.00. This is wrong; it is unacceptable.  Such cannot be inflicted upon an already financially weakened citizenry. Above all, this will amount to a violation of the relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution already cited; and it will invariably translate to scarcity of the vaccines in public hospitals. Government should cancel the arrangement and equip public health centres to cope with the demand of COVID-19 vaccination.