From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
On Tuesday, March 2, 2021, Nigeria took delivery of four million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine which is the first batch of expected vaccines, ahead of the commencement of the vaccination exercise in Nigeria.
This was after several “delays” and shift in arrival date, perhaps, as a result of failed logistics arrangements or other unforeseen circumstances that might have elongated the arrival of the vaccine.
Recall that the vaccine was supposed to arrive Nigeria first few days in January, but Nigerians waited patiently and endlessly until it was announced that the arrival date has been changed and shifted to sometimes in February. Still, that never happened until Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021.
Finally, four million doses of the vaccine arrives Nigeria on Tuesday through the collective efforts of GAVI the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as a key implementing partner.
The four million doses was part of an overall 16 million doses planned to be delivered to Nigeria in batches over the next few months by the COVAX Facility, as part of an unprecedented global effort to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
It was, however, a big relief for the Federal Government and Nigerians who have long desired and waited for the vaccine which, expectedly, will assist in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
About 11.30 am on Tuesday, the Emirates flight Boeing 777-300ER carrying the vaccines touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. Expectedly, officials of the Federal Government, led by the PTF Chairman, Boss Mustapha, were handy to welcome the vaccines.
An appreciable number of local and international journalists accompanied the government officials and other relevant stakeholders to witness the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine and also bear witness to the occasion.
It was all cheers and feeling of fulfillment when the flight carrying the vaccine touched down Abuja Airport safely. Before then, relevant officials were already positioned at strategic locations for safe handling of the vaccines including the storage. It was, undoubtedly, a deep sigh of relief for the officials who have worked “tirelessly” for months to secure the vaccines.
There was, however, a brief ceremony at the VIP Protocol section, General Aviation Terminal of Airport to welcome the vaccines. At the end of the ceremonies, few vials of the vaccines were handed over to officials of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for further analysis.
Next line of action
Further to the clearance by NAFDAC, the PTF, Federal Ministry of Health, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and strategic leaders would be at the treatment centre of the National Hospital on Friday March 5th, where the first vaccination site will be set up to commence the vaccination of the frontline health workers and support staff.
The benefitting staff was electronically registered in the COVID-19 vaccine database and would receive their COVID-19 vaccination card which has a QR code that can be verified worldwide.
On Saturday, March 6, key strategic leaders would receive the first dose of the vaccine.
On Monday March 8th 2021, more vaccination sites would have been set up at designated locations such as National Assembly clinic, State House clinic and Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Jabi, Abuja, where strategic leaders such as the SGF, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Attorney General of the Federation, Inspector General of Police, the Ministers and Ministers of States, Senators, House of Representatives, traditional leaders and religious leaders would be vaccinated.
After this launch and initial roll-out phase, vaccine distribution to States for the phase 1 vaccination exercise will begin. All frontline health workers, their supporting staff and strategic leaders would be vaccinated. It was gathered that deployment of vaccines to the states would be based on the assessment of their level of preparedness.
Parameters that would be used for the assessment include adequate maintenance of their cold chain storage facilities, adequate preparation for logistic transportation to the ward/ health facility, adequate security in place during transportation and at vaccination sites, completion of training of health workers, efficient social mobilization activities in place, adherence to protocol for vaccine deployment.
Myths and misconceptions
There was initial scepticism by Nigerians about the safety of the vaccine, with several claims that samples from Nigeria and Africa was never considered in the development of the vaccine.
The sceptism was strengthened possibly because of poor flow of information from people who ought to supply the information, through deep engagement with Nigerians on the safety of the vaccine and the need to take the vaccine as preventive measures against COVID-19.
Apparently, many people, particularly those that command loyalty and respect in the society were “fed” with what many health experts described as false information about the efficacy of the vaccine.
It worsened when some notable Nigerians appeared on social media with videos discouraging Nigerians from taking the vaccine, claiming it was a conspiracy by the West to biologically harm Africans.
Many of them strongly questioned the speed at which the white scientists develop the COVID-19 vaccine, even when tropical diseases like Malaria, HIV/AIDS, typhoid and several other ailments killing Nigerians were yet to get vaccine, decades after they visited mankind particularly Africans with death and sorrow.
Fears of some Nigerians were, however, justified by some of the unexpected side effects of the vaccine seen in people that took the vaccine at different locations in US, UK and other developed countries.
A video made by a popular Kogi State born politician, Senator Dino Melaye, on COVID-19 vaccine went viral on social media. In the video, he cautioned his large followers against taking the vaccine which he questioned the safety and efficacy among Africans.
He made reference to Malaria, HIV/AIDS and several other diseases which, he claimed, have been killing Nigerians and Africans, silently and otherwise, for decades, which are yet to get vaccine. “Surprisingly, in few months that COVID-19 visited the world with unprecedented pain and sorrow, scientists moved swiftly to develop vaccine for the world with many people claiming that uniqueness of Africans were not considered.
Aside what Senator Melaye did many prominent religious leaders that command massive followership and loyalty from millions of people also questioned the genuineness and safety of the vaccine considering the fact that sample of Nigerians and other Africans.
Meanwhile, a Professor of Virology, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, who was a guest at Channels Television morning programme, Sunrise Daily, on Monday, pointed out the incoherent information flowing from the PTF as regards the vaccine which has largely contributed to the poor acceptance of the vaccines by Nigerians.
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 quickly swiftly rose to the occasion, engaging several stakeholders, notably, traditional rulers, religious leaders and celebrities in series of meetings to buy their support and cooperation, which to a large extent yielded a expected result.
The stakeholders all agreed at different meetings that they would support the move and also sensitize their people on the need to support government in its efforts to tackle the disease.
Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora, alongside the Chairman of PTF, Boss Mustapha, have repeatedly confirmed that the vaccination exercise will be in priority groups, starting with the frontline healthcare workers.
NPHCDA, however, said it has trained health care workers nationwide that would be involved in the COVID-19 vaccination at the national and state levels.
The Agency, specifically, said that over 13,000 health care workers were trained in the first phase of the national training of trainers, while the training exercise was cascaded to the ward and facility levels few days ago where over 100,000 health workers were trained preparatory to the arrival and administration of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaibu, enjoined Nigerians, particularly health care workers nationwide to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Federal Government to protect themselves and curb the spread of COVID-19.
He, thus, encouraged other Nigerians to secure a date and time for COVID-19 vaccination on the simple and user-friendly registration platform of the Federal Ministry of Health for COVID-19 vaccination.