Okonjo-Iweala: Nigeria to Access COVID-19 Vaccines from Jan 2021

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Africa needs $9bn to buy, distribute 1.4bn doses of vaccines, says WHO

Davidson Irikpen

The Chair of the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has assured that Nigeria and other African countries will have access to COVID-19 vaccines from the end of January 2021.

This is as the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday said Africa would need at least $9bn to procure and distribute 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

A statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs quoted Okonjo-Iweala as making this statement during a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama.

“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,” she was quoted as saying.

Okonjo-Iweala is currently the African Union special envoy on mobilising international economic support for the continental fight against COVID-19 and Nigeria’s candidate for the World Trade Organisation Director-General position.

She explained that there is an ongoing international initiative involving the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI and the international community, to get vaccines delivered to developing and poorer countries, in an affordable manner and quickly.

According to her, the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca were presently being negotiated so that poor countries don’t have to stand in a queue behind rich countries.

The former finance minister described Africans as blessed, for not having the same incidence rate of COVID-19 like other continents, but warned African nations against complacency.

Okonjo-Iweala said a platform called the COVAX facility had been developed with 186 countries onboard to raise resources and get the vaccines to poor countries 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,” she explained.

“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 underlying conditions and then, from there, the rest of the population. I think the COVAX facility can cover maybe 20-23 per cent of the population by the end of next year.”

Meanwhile, WHO has said Africa will need at least $9bn to procure and distribute 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Immunisation and Vaccines Development Programme Coordinator, WHO, Dr. Richard Mihigo, said this at the WHO Africa online press briefing on ramping up preparedness for COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in Africa.

Mihigo stated that there was a need to ensure an equitable and timely distribution of the vaccines.

Mihigo said, “We will definitely need to vaccinate between 60 to 70 per cent of the African population.

“So, if you consider that we have about 1.2 to 1.3 billion people on the African continent and you take 60 per cent of that with the assumption that you will need maybe two doses per population, we are talking about close to 1.3 to 1.4 billion vaccine doses that will be needed to immunise 60 per cent of the people in Africa to reach a herd immunity.”

Speaking further, Mihigo explained that it is not just about the cost of the vaccines but the cost of delivering them and ensuring that they get to the right locations.

He added that there were no guarantees that there would be enough supplies before the end of 2021.

The WHO official stated, “So, if we compute that number with the preliminary information that we are getting with these vaccine manufacturers because it is not only the cost of the vaccines. There are also additional costs that are needed to deliver those vaccines.

“We know very well that the preliminary rough estimation that is being done, we may need up to $9bn. So, this is a lot of money, a lot of funding that will be needed. First of all, we are not sure that we are going to get enough supply to immunise everybody by the end of 2021. This may spill over to the year after but also to mobilise such an amount of money, I think it will be an additional challenge.”

Mihigo said the COVAX Facility, which is a Gavi-coordinated pooled procurement mechanism for developing COVID-19 vaccines and ensuring fair and equitable access, would make 20 per cent of the vaccines available.

He revealed that there are discussions ongoing with the African Union to work with other multilateral or development banks like the World Bank, Afrexim Bank to mobilise resources.

“Depending on how much vaccines we need, starting by the COVAX facility alone, I think there is an ambition to reach at least 20 per cent but as I said before there are a lot of discussions going on if we really need to reach a herd immunity that will help people to go back to some sort of normal life,” the official said.