Not less than 3.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived Nigeria to the relief of many citizens on March 2, 2021. Seen as an effective way of containing the coronavirus pandemic, the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine came under the COVAX Facility, a coalition that ensures equitable access of the vaccine across the world. It was the first batch of an overall 16 million doses meant for Nigeria. Manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the vaccine was shipped to Nigeria from Mumbai, India, making the country the third West African beneficiary after Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
The delivery was a major step in the efforts of COVAX to deliver about 600 million and two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa and the world respectively by the end of 2021. So far, over 300 million doses of vaccines have been given worldwide. The United States of America leads with over 90 million doses. The United Kingdom has got over 23 million doses.
Although some issues were raised about preservation, the Executive Director/CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, assured that the agency had ensured that cold chain facilities were ready at all levels and that it had a robust cold chain system that could store all types of COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with the required temperature.
Nationwide, the vaccine rollout, which is in four phases, has commenced with frontline health workers and strategic leadership. The second phase will comprise those aged 50 years and above. The third phase will be the turn of people aged 18 to 49 years with relevant medical conditions while the fourth phase will cover the remaining eligible individuals ranging from 18 years to 49 years without relevant medical conditions. People are expected to book for their vaccination appointments by registering via a website provided by the NPHCDA.
President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, among others, have taken the vaccine. The President also encouraged every eligible Nigerian to do the same. This will go a long way in debunking the unfounded rumour that the vaccine was meant to decimate Africa’s population. Nigeria plans to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of the eligible citizens within two years.
We wish to advise that the vaccination campaign should not be politicised. At some point last year, Cross River, Kogi and a few other states failed to present the true picture of the extent of the pandemic in their states. It got to a point that the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) threatened to sue the health commissioners of Cross River and Kogi for obstructing COVID-19 testing and control measures. Even up until now, the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, does not believe that the disease exists. Nor does he want to have anything to do with the vaccine. “I am not going to subject the people of Kogi State to vaccines or vaccination and I will not make them the guinea pigs,” Bello said recently. This type of attitude contributed largely to the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria. By early March this year, the country had recorded over 159, 000 cases and over 1, 900 deaths. Worldwide, there are over 117 million cases and over 2.6 million deaths.
The vaccination campaign should also not be handled like the controversial distribution of the COVID-19 palliatives. Many vulnerable citizens who should get the palliatives never got them.
Besides, lack of accurate data in Nigeria is a major problem. The NPHCDA has asked Nigerians to register. But how does it intend to navigate the challenge of people who may want to circumvent the process by presenting a false identity? How does it, for instance, ensure that those who may present themselves as health workers are truly so? And how does it genuinely determine the age of the beneficiaries?
Considering our large population, the 3.9 doses that we just received are grossly inadequate. There is need, therefore for their equitable distribution. Frontline workers and vulnerable people must be given priority attention. Government should also explore other avenues to get more vaccines including exploring our goodwill with donor agencies. The world is watching us. How we distribute this one may determine how we get the remaining doses.
We commend the COVAX co-led by GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and all the donors that made the arrival of the vaccine in Nigeria possible. They include, among others, the United States of America, United Kingdom, Japan, European Commission, countries of the European Union and many others.
In all, there is need for Nigerians to extend the same cooperation and seriousness they attached to the containment of Ebola outbreak of 2014 to the COVID-19 pandemic. They should not relax because there is now a vaccine for coronavirus. We enjoin them to still observe the necessary safety protocols, including the wearing of face masks in public gatherings, regular washing of hands and the use of hand sanitizers.