From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 pandemic (PTF) has warned Nigerians that the Federal Government is yet to receive any vaccines and that anyone claiming to have one is misinforming the public.
The task force was reacting to Kogi Governor Yahaya Bello’s claim that the expected COVID-19 vaccines are meant to kill Nigerians.
Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire, briefing the media at Monday’s briefing, though he did not mention the governor by name, said some remarks by opinion leaders on the COVID-19 vaccines were confusing Nigerians.
The minister urged them to stop spreading disinformation but support the efforts of the PTF in acquiring the vaccines.
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) had last week criticised Governor Bello for rejecting COVID-19 vaccines.
NGF Chairman and Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, who signed the communique of the Forum’s first virtual meeting for 2021, said the governors met and ‘deliberated on matters of national importance, particularly the procurement and administration of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
‘On the ill-fated pronouncement made by a member of the forum regarding the COVID-19 vaccine in a national daily, the Forum totally and categorically dissociated itself from the statement.
‘The Forum emphasised that it will continue to be informed and guided by science and will ensure that every decision it takes will help retain the public and professional trust and is not compromised by conflicts of interest,’ the communique read.
The Minister of Health appealed to opinion leaders to desist from misinforming Nigerians.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic is not only disrupting our way of life more and more and impacting the national economy and livelihood of citizens, it is generating discussions and anxiety around our safety and well-being. Conversations go on in conventional, and especially in social media, that can be laden with misinformation and disinformation,’ he stated.
‘Even more disturbing is that erstwhile trusted and respected persons and organs, who are expected to know better, themselves contribute to the confusion and information chaos.
‘This is a time for reasoned conversation, calm and consensus and I begin my briefing by calling on opinion leaders, community gatekeepers and the media to rise to the occasion and endeavour to first check their facts and figures, ask necessary questions, and in making their contributions to the discourse, ensure they are constructive and not inflammatory or inciting. We cannot, at these moments of anxiety about public health and well-being, afford to spread false information and damaging rumours.
‘The Ministry of Health will always provide full authentic information to the public on demand, at PTF and at all other fora for briefings.
‘With the number of COVID-19 cases rising daily, we are in that difficult phase we have been warning about for months, which is the second wave of COVID-19 outbreak, sadly afflicting Europe and the Americas at present, and which we are desperately fighting to prevent. I wish to stress again that this fight is not for government alone; it is for all Nigerians and persons resident in Nigeria to own and play their part. Persons who usually delight in peddling rumours and false information about the pandemic can help by restraining themselves, rather work against the grain.’
Asked why he was not naming the opinion leaders who he said are misleading Nigerians, Ehanire stated: ‘With regards on naming names, I think the message is better than naming names. So, when people are not saying the right thing, we tell people the right thing and we tell them to listen to the people who have the right thing to say. We do not want to flog the horse by mentioning names it doesn’t contribute to the lessons we want to give. We don’t bother to name names because it doesn’t add value to what we want to say.’
On the vaccines, the minister said: “At the last briefing, I broke the response of the Federal Ministry of Health to the second wave of COVID-19 into three prongs, the first being: Intensification of Public Health measures to reduce the rate of new infections; Improvement of Therapeutics to reduce fatalities among those infected; and vaccination to protect citizens with their own antibodies.
‘About the first two we have said a lot in past briefings, but the question of vaccine is one area of rampant misinformation in recent times, regarding plans for acquisition, safety, efficacy and delivery, which I shall focus on in today’s briefing.
‘Nigeria is exploring all options to secure safe and efficacious vaccines to meet our target of covering at least 70% of our population within two years. With an eye on value-for-money, we are negotiating with many parties and planning for flawless execution using recent experience from polio eradication, in the face of a global scramble for vaccines.
‘Apart from the 100,000 doses allocated as the first wave to Nigeria by the COVAX facility, we also placed an order for 10 million doses through the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) of the Africa Union Commission, which has secured 270 million doses, with the $2 billion backing by Africa Exim Bank for a “whole-of-Africa” approach of the Chairman of the African Union, President Ramaphosa of South Africa. The vaccine is expected to be rolled out as from late March or April. The quantity we order from AVATT will depend on our capacity to dispense them to avoid wastage as we have seen in some countries where vaccine management became a problem.
‘The Federal Ministry of Health organised a National COVID-19 Vaccine Conference to prepare a roadmap for Nigeria’s access to COVID-19 vaccine and review our vaccination strategy. Reports and updates were received from NPHCDA, the agency responsible for vaccine administration, NAFDAC responsible for medicine regulation and also from our research institutions. Nigeria has an indigenous vaccine candidate, which will require considerable investment to get through trials. We shall seek sponsorship to take the initiative further. The vaccine conference also reviewed the value chain from acquisition, logistics of storage, distribution and dispensing to try to zero in on preferred vaccines.
‘With an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, we continually review our case management strategies to improve quality of care, as well as knowledge, attitude and skills of frontline health workers, to sustain a reduction in the fatality rate.’
The minister also announced that a Handbook on Home Based COVID-19 Care has been released.
‘The development of a Handbook on Home Based COVID-19 Care is to guide patients who will be each assigned to a specific case manager linked to a health facility, to provide social support service and ensure positive outcomes. This will reduce pressure on health facilities and free bed space for serious and critical cases.
‘This handbook will also provide Nigerians with guidelines to correct the divergent, misleading treatment regimens being touted in various quarters.
‘The Federal Government’s nationwide oxygen intervention projects which will see the construction of at least one oxygen plant in every state is underway. Five facilities in FCT will also get upgraded oxygen plants, in a separate intervention. In the meantime, Federal Ministry of Health is arranging for Federal Tertiary Hospitals and Isolation centres to interface and explore demand imbalances among facilities and set up an oxygen re-distribution system to assist each other when demand arises.’