From Benjamin Babine, Abuja
The Healthcare Federation of Nigeria (HFN) on April 1 hosted an emergency stakeholders meeting on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to discuss issues around the low uptake of the vaccine amongst healthcare workers, as well as to continue the advocacy for the involvement of the private sector in the vaccine rollout.
The interactive session which was opened by the HFN President, Dr Pamela Ajayi, and anchored by the Vice President, Ms Njide Ndili, hosted experienced COVID-19 healthcare professionals from diaspora, and leaders of healthcare associations in Nigeria including Healthcare Providers Association of Nigeria (HCPAN).
One of the professionals was Prof Igho Ofotokun from Emory University School of Medicine who is involved in the clinical trials of the vaccine. He stated that: ‘The clinical trials proved to be 100% effective on African American patients and therefore Nigerian healthcare workers should be confident that taking the vaccine will protect them from the COVID-19 virus.’
He added that ‘the extent of longterm effects of the COVID-19 virus on the human body are still being studied so the benefits of taking the vaccines far outweigh the negatives.’
Nigeria received 3.92 million doses of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccines through COVAX, a global scheme formed to ensure fair access to inoculations for low and middle-income states. The vaccines were allocated by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to almost all the states in Nigeria and they have commenced vaccination to the frontline health and essential workers through public sector hospitals only.
As of April 6, approximately 965,000 people have been vaccinated representing 48.0% of the targeted population to be vaccinated in this first phase. During the meeting, particpants attributed the shortfall to a high level of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers due to the suspension in several countries as a result of reported blood clots, infertility and other conspiracy theories circulating in social media.
Some healthcare workers have reported their inability to get enough time off work to get the vaccine, there have also being reports of the vaccines been sold to ineligible members of the population who are not in the first vaccination phase. Other reasons relate to the technology platform including failure during the registration process, no return email confirming date and time of appointment, QR barcodes generated post vaccination are said not to be linked to any patient information to name a few.
The HFN which is the advocacy body of the private healthcare sector stakeholders has on several occasions engaged NPHCDA to allow private sector healthcare organizations support the government’s efforts to accelerate vaccine uptake. There was positive acknowledgement of this request although not much traction has been achieved. In several of the developed countries such as the United States, Europe, South Africa to name a few, the power of the private sector has been harnessed to help decentralize and accelerate vaccinations amongst the populace. The solution for some of the challenges identified will depend on how our government responds and if it partners with the private sector. According to Dr. Egbe Osifo-Dawodu, ‘it is only with the involvement of private sector can Nigeria accelerate the vaccination programme.’
Some solutions proffered by HFN members include awareness creation where Government partnership with the private sector to scale up sensitization and awareness on the COVID-19 vaccination program to combat vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers; ensuring an active and up to date COVID-19 vaccination website where information is published daily; Government should consider allowing COVID-19 vaccines to be delivered to large hospitals/healthcare facilities with over 250 workers.
Mr Asue Ighodalu, Chairman of Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), who also contributed to the discussion, reiterated the importance of private sector involvement to increase uptake so that the economy can open up and drive economic activities. ‘Government needs to explore other vaccine options and licenses granted to some private sector organisations to procure vaccines to complement those supplied by the Government. This will allow the Government to focus more on regulation and ensuring safety of the vaccination program. Private sector should be allowed to participate in the vaccine administration process using a similar template to that used for the COVID-19 testing in Lagos State, where private sector players are permitted to charge controlled pricing,’ he said.
Mr Adeyemi Adewole, HFN Financial Secretary who moderated the discussions suggested that out of pocket payment for the COVID-19 vaccine should be encouraged for those who can afford it as is being done in various countries such as in Dubai and India. ‘There is clearly pent-up demand for the vaccine as there are reported cases of people offering money to be vaccinated and many large Corporates anxious to pay for vaccines to protect their staff,’ he said.
HFN is a coalition of Nigerian private healthcare sector stakeholders with the aim of speaking with a unified voice for the purpose of improving the Nigerian Health Sector through advocacy and education.