From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Nigeria’s allocation of the first batch of 3.92 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Assess Facility, COVAX, touched Abuja at 11.45am prompt.
COVAX is a global scheme to procure and distribute vaccine for free, as the world races to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The Emirates flight Boeing 777-300ER carrying the vaccines touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport at about 11:36 am.
Nigeria is the third West African country to receive the vaccines after Ghana and Cote d’voire from the COVAX facility.
The government aims to start by vaccinating frontline healthcare workers, the highest-priority recipients, in Abuja on March 5, followed by strategic leaders on March 8.
Recall the COVAX was launched in April 2020, to help ensure a fairer distribution of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor nations, with the target of delivering two billion doses to its members by the end of 2021.
The 3.92 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine was licensed by the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, were part of an initial tranche of deliveries headed to several low and middle-income countries, which Nigeria is part of.
The 3.92 million is part of the 16 million doses initially expected in the country.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 Boss Mustapha, led other governmental officials, wearing yellow high-visibility jackets and facemasks, to receive the vaccine on the airport tarmac in Abuja.
Mustapha said that the arrival of the Astra-Zeneca vaccines, marks a significant milestone in the National Response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
“For over one year, humanity has remained under the siege of a virus that has impacted on lives, livelihood, destroyed economies, governance systems, medical services, socio-economic systems.
“Nations around the world have deployed enormous resources to tackle the virus which has seen a first wave and more virulent second wave. As at date, it has claimed over 2.5 million lives world wide and we are still counting.
“The successful development of vaccines and the accelerated process for emergency authorisation has brought hope to humanity all over the world. Its arrival in Nigeria today has been made possible through purposeful leadership by President Muhammadu Buhari, collaboration with domestic stakeholders, the international community and pain staking technical efforts to ensure that what we are offering Nigerians is safe and efficacious,” he said.
The SGF added that, prior to the vaccines phase, government had introduced and promoted the non-pharmaceutical interventions and that these remain very valid measures to take under the Infection Prevention and Control Policy.
He said, “I therefore urge all Nigerians to continue to comply with these measures even as we roll out the vaccines administration plan which is expected to reach 70 percent of our population between 2021 and 2022. Under the circumstances, it must continue to be NPIs + vaccines.
“Although this consignment of vaccines is just 3.924m doses of the expected 16m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX Facility, we are indeed grateful to the coalition that has made this possible for us to receive it.”
The Nigeria country representative for UNICEF, Peter Hawkins, said Nigeria’s extensive experience in combatting infectious diseases, most recently the eradication of wild polio, would facilitate the rollout of COVID-19 doses.
“We will use the polio network to be able to ensure that people in the most extreme areas are reached as quickly as possible,” Hawkins said.
The Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, during PTF briefing on Monday had said that only eligible population from 18 years and above, including pregnant women, will be vaccinated.
He said that the vaccine roll-out will be in four phases, starting with health workers, frontline workers, COVID-19 rapid response team, laboratory network, policemen, petrol station workers and strategic leaders.
Also the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon said arrival of the vaccines marks a major milestone for the COVAX Facility.
He said, “The arrival of these vaccines in Abuja today marks a milestone for the COVAX Facility in its unprecedented effort to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of 2021.”
He reiterates the commitment of the UN Country Team in Nigeria to support the vaccination campaign and help contain the spread of the virus.
Kallon said that the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine will enable the NPHCDA to commence the vaccination of Nigerians in priority groups, starting with frontline healthcare workers.
On his part, th Managing Director for Country Programmes at Gavi, Thabani Maphosa, said the Vaccine Alliance viewed the delivery of the vaccine is a landmark moment for the country to end the acute phase of the pandemic.
“We are glad to see Nigeria is amongst the first receiving the doses from COVAX, thanks to the excellent level of preparedness put in place by the Government of Nigeria,” Maphosa said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Walter Mulombo, said the agency congratulate the government of Nigeria for its participation in COVAX efforts and its commitment to protecting Nigerians against this pandemic.
According to him, the vaccines have undergone rigorous regulatory processes at global and country-level and have been deemed safe and effective.
Also, the UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Mr. Peter Hawkins, said, “After a year of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, today we celebrate the efforts being made in getting the vaccine to Nigeria.
“The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines into Nigeria is critical in curbing the pandemic. The only way out of this crisis is to ensure that vaccinations are available to all.”
Earlier, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), had informed that the agency have established a national COVID-19 operations room to track planned activities at all levels and report on state of preparedness using a dash board to also identify and address gaps promptly.
According to him, an additional 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines donated by telecom giant, MTN, will also be delivered to the country by the end of February.
The agency had on Monday that Nigerians can now register for the COVID-19 vaccination via its website.
“To register for #COVID19 Vaccination, visit our website http://nphcda.gov.ng and click on ‘COVID-19 Vaccination e-registration,” the agency had said in a tweet.