From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has assured Nigeria and other African countries of access to COVID-19 vaccines in no distant time.
Speaking after a closed-door meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama in Abuja, Okonjo-Iweala recalled the international initiative with the World Health Organization, with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), with Gavi, and the international community to try to get vaccines to developing and poorer countries quickly in an affordable fashion.
Recall that Okonjo-Iweala is the African Union Special Envoy to Mobilise International Economic Support for Continental Fight Against COVID-19 and Nigeria’s candidate for the Office of the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
Disclosing the possibility of getting the COVID-19 vaccines quicker to poorer countries, Okonjo-Iweala said Africans were blessed not to have the same incidence of COVID-19.
She added that even though the incidence was lower on the continent, Africa should not feel so comfortable, while also maintaining that the incidence was lower in Africa.
Okonjo-Iweala also said irrespective of the lower incidence, it doesn’t mean that there are no people who have COVID-19 on the continent.
“And as long as one person has it in the world, no one is safe. And that is why poorer countries, lower middle-income countries like Nigeria, need to get it as quickly as possible.
“So, starting end of January, into the first quarter of next year, I think we will begin to see the vaccines getting to some of our countries,” Okonjo-Iweala assured.
Okonjo-Iweala further recalled that a facility called the COVAX facility has been developed, which had 186 countries.
She added that the side which is interested in serving the poorer countries had 92 countries for which resources have been raised to try and get the vaccines to them quickly.
“So, the Pfizer vaccine, the AstraZeneca, those are being negotiated now so that poor countries don’t have to stand in line behind rich countries.
“So, we hope they are starting by the end of January. We will be able to reach these countries, including most of the African countries, Nigeria included, will be able to get access to some of these vaccines.
“Initially, it will be for frontline health workers, followed by some other target groups – older people, those with underline conditions and then, from there, the rest of the population.
“I think the COVAX facility can cover maybe 20, 23 percent of the population by the end of next year,” Okonjo-Iweala also said.