By Tajudeen Kareem
Health authorities in Nigeria are collaborating to host a National Summit on COVID-19 to highlight the continued challenge of the pandemic and how to tackle it amid fears of a fourth wave globally.
Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee, PSC, on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha said the summit to evaluate the national response efforts and strengthen global health security will hold for three days, December 6-8, 2021 in Abuja. Specifically, the forum is expected to provide a platform for participants to reflect on the challenges, missed opportunities and find a way forward in building a sustainable health promotion, health safety and health security system for the country.
The Summit theme is: “Review, reposition and push through the last mile to end COVID-19 pandemic and build back better, resilient health system.”
Official statistics state that Nigeria recorded 213,000 confirmed cases of COVID. Of these, 205,000 made a full recovery, while 2,960 Nigerians – parents, siblings, close relatives, colleagues and neighbours died. It translates to a case fatality rate of 1.39%.
Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire disclosed that Nigeria had tested 3.9 million (3, 392, 457) persons, of which 213, 147 were confirmed positive for COVID-19. Active cases are 4,447 and patients discharged to date are 205,732. Most patients (67%) on admission in isolation wards have co-morbidities like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and other non-communicable diseases, which are known determinants of the severity of COVID-19 illness.
National Incident Manager on COVID-19, Dr Mukhtar Muhammed described the upcoming national COVID-19 summit as apt and will provide a platform to reflect on the recorded successes in addressing the pandemic as well as analyse the current situation in the country. Expected participants include all critical stakeholders cutting across government agencies, states and the National Assembly. Also listed are development partners, civil society organisations, the private sector, research institutions and the academia. They would assist the PSC review and chart a better course for the nation.
Whereas, Nigeria’s experience indicates a positive correlation between the number of arriving passengers and COVID-19 cases in the country, it is imperative for Nigerians to be more conscious and cautious, exercise more safety measures and be more vigilant to protect themselves and their families from the pandemic. Indeed, Dr Muhammed has stressed that COVID-19 is not over and warned that a possible fourth wave could happen.
“Last year, we saw how the entire wave started. From April, May and June, we had our first wave; by November, December to January, we had our second wave, and by July, August up to October, we had the third wave of COVID-19.
“We must make sure that we improve our level of vaccination, and it begins at the individual level, household level, and the community. We, therefore, urge Nigerians to take these seriously. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to prevent it from happening; and science has shown that people who are vaccinated are highly unlikely to come down with severe disease or even to die from the disease.
“We need to improve on our observation of the social measures. Even if we are vaccinated, we still need to continue to observe the social distance measures and continue to wear our face masks,” Muhammed warned.
Enter Mass Vaccination
Nigeria has commenced a mass vaccination drive for citizens while a Vaccine Mandate for federal civil servants begins from 1 December 2021.
Expect to see vaccination sites in a public facility near you. These include health care centres, clinics, hospitals, schools, markets, motor parks and other populated areas. Also listed are universities, colleges of education, polytechnics, vocational institutions, stadiums, town squares and shopping malls, going by the mandate of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA which is targeting to vaccinate at least 50% of eligible Nigerians by the end of January 2022.
Mustapha said the measures mirror global developments. The PSC is already engaging with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to push through the mass vaccination programme and mandate for Nigerians.
On compulsory vaccination for Nigerians, Mustapha said: “Let me remind Nigerians that the Vaccine Mandate Policy has become a global phenomenon and Nigeria is not an exception. All Federal Government employees are therefore reminded that December 1, 2021 remains the deadline for all to show evidence of being vaccinated or a PCR negative test result done 72 hours before being allowed into their offices.
“I therefore urge all public servants that are yet to be vaccinated to take advantage of this mass vaccination to receive their vaccines in order to protect themselves and their loved ones. Remember, no one is protected until we are all protected”.
Dr Ehanire emphasises why mass vaccination is critical. “The most potent tool so far, to save lives, remains complete vaccination in prescribed intervals, which has gone without incident around the world for so long now that nobody should be having doubts about it anymore.
His argument: “The vaccines we use are trusted. All citizens should drop their hesitancy and take the vaccines. It is now commonplace in many foreign countries that citizens need proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter restaurants, cinemas, night clubs and even to board aircraft on international flights. This trend is intensifying worldwide and will, no doubt, begin to take root in Nigeria in due course. I will not be surprised if Nigerian domestic airlines start to demand vaccination cards before boarding. Nobody should be left behind in vaccination, lest they face an embarrassing situation.”
He has also reiterated government’s desire to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus and gain the desired herd immunity quickly.
While listing Nigeria as a high performer in total Covid-19 response, including vaccine roll out, the minister warned against complacency, advising that all hands must be on deck considering a population size estimated at 214 million people.
“We must speed up current vaccination rate across the whole country; we must work harder and faster than others, just to get the same result. It is critical that we reach all the eligible persons in good time,” said Dr Ehanire.
He disclosed that no fewer than 5,985,049 persons have been vaccinated with the first dose, while 3,336,866 have received second dose of coronavirus vaccines. The country is targeting 111,776,503 people to achieve herd immunity.
“It is in the light of this that the Presidential Steering Committee, the Federal Ministry of Health and National Primary Healthcare Development Agency reviewed the vaccine delivery strategy and decided to start the next phase of the National Vaccine Deployment Plan and set up mass vaccination sites,” the minister disclosed.
“Our aim is to have vaccinated 55 million residents of Nigeria by the end of January, 2022, which is 50% of our target population. We have enough vaccines and assurance of flow of high quality vaccines from many sources to be certain that we can sustain the campaign to meet the deadline we have set for ourselves.
“The Ministry of Health plans to maintain that energy and strive for herd immunity, which we had calculated to be by vaccinating at least 70% of our eligible population. Our preference is to exceed that target, because lessons we learn from observing developments in other countries, is that we need to aim higher than 70%, to be more assured of protecting the health of most Nigerians,” said Dr Ehanire.
He asked all policy makers and influencers to support the national mobilisation effort. Listed are state governors, council chairmen, traditional and religious leaders, community leaders and the media. He also reiterated the safety and effectiveness of all vaccines even as he assured of government’s commitment to “providing safe and efficacious Covid-19 vaccines and dispensing them backed with accountability and transparency.”
“All vaccines are tagged and tracked by NAFDAC to ensure that quality and potency is maintained in the supply chain. No vaccine is allowed to any vaccination site except authenticated and with safety verification. We do not compromise safety and standards,” he said.
Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib said the overall population of eligible persons targeted for COVID-19 vaccination to enable the country to reach herd immunity against the disease is 111 million (111,776,503).
“We have all come to agree that COVID-19 exists and is fatal. Some of us have lost our friends, family members and colleagues to COVID-19. This pandemic has remained a formidable obstacle to the smooth conduct of our businesses, education and personal living. More than any other disease in recent history, COVID-19 has generated protracted global economic downturns and social inconveniences that impact developing countries, including Nigeria.
“It will be difficult to recover from all of these adversities if we do not take aggressive measures to control COVID-19 in the shortest possible time. For this reason, NPHCDA, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health and the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, has initiated the COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Campaign. The idea of a mass vaccination campaign is to quickly increase the number of the fully vaccinated eligible populations in Nigeria, thereby rapidly moving towards achieving herd immunity and creating an enabling environment for economic recovery and a return to social normalcy in the country,” said Dr Shuaib.