WHO Endorses Pfizer Vaccine for COVID-19 Immunisation in Nigeria

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•Nigeria opens talks with China on vaccine acquisition
•FG to revoke visas of errant visitors
Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

As Nigeria prepares to take delivery of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of January, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced yesterday that it has authorised the vaccine made by Pfizer for immunisation against the virus in the country.

The WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, Dr Walter Kaza Mulombo, said during the Presidential Task Force on COVID- 19 press briefing in Abuja that the Pfizer vaccine, which requires keeping in extremely cold temperature of minus 70 degrees celsius, which is colder than winter in Antarctica, is the first to be approved for Nigeria by the world health body and will be available for emergency use.

The federal government has also opened talks with China to have access to COVID-19 vaccines for the country.
A report yesterday by Reuters also showed that Nigeria hopes to get 42 million COVID-19 vaccines to cover one-fifth of its population through the global COVAX scheme.

The WHO announcement came against the backdrop of the federal government’s statement that the first batch of vaccines for immunising 20 per cent of the population against the virus will be delivered by the end of the month.
Mulombo told the gathering that the first batch of vaccines for Nigeria will arrive in a couple of weeks, a timeframe within the federal government’s projection.

He said: “On the question of WHO endorsing or authorising two vaccines, what I can say this evening is that WHO has endorsed for emergency use one vaccine, which is Pfizer vaccine, which is expected first to arrive in Nigeria in a couple of weeks. There are other candidate vaccines that will come on the list and in a few days after the strategic inventory by the group of experts in WHO reviews all the evidence. So the process is for WHO to review rigorously all the evidence published and made available by the vaccine manufacturers. After reviewing that evidence, there is a set of criteria, then we can decide or not put it on the emergency list. But for now, it just one of them, but there are others that may come on the same list.”

On his part, the Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, stated that the federal government has begun seeing the effect of the activities carried out during the Christmas festivities with the increase in the daily numbers in people contracting COVID-19 nationwide.

He added that Nigeria has joined South Africa in reporting the highest daily infection cases in Africa.
He reinforced this concern by noting that 1,204 infections were recorded on Monday, which represented the highest daily number ever recorded since the national response began.

He said: “From our analysis, we are beginning to see the effect of activities carried out during the Christmas festivities. We can only hope that numbers will not escalate beyond control. We, however, still appeal to all citizens to take full responsibility through compliance and vigilance.”

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), about two weeks ago, had warned that the country risked an escalation in the number of infected persons following an upswing in social activities during the Yuletide.

Mustapha, who is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), said statistics for Nigeria indicated the country has recorded 91,351 total cases out of 958,911 persons tested for the virus.

The country has also recorded 1,318 deaths with 57 fatalities recorded in week 53, being the highest for any single week since the start of the national response.

According to him, 731 out of the 35,419 members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members in the Batch B tested positive for COVID-19, compared to 108 recorded during the Batch A.

He added that the private sector-driven CACOVID has commenced supporting the national response with 100 oxygen cylinders per day till the end of March 2021 for distribution to critical care centres in Abuja
In addition, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved that at least one oxygen plant should be established in each state of the federation immediately.

Also, approval has been given to rehabilitate five oxygen plants across various tertiary health institutions in Abuja.
Mustapha added that the PTF has generated over 20,000 inbound passengers that have also defaulted. He vowed that the publication of the names of defaulters will continue weekly till it is exhausted.

FG to Revoke Visas of Errant Visitors

In his contribution, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mohammed Babandede, explained that the federal government will revoke visas of foreign visitors who failed to present their COVID-19 test certificates on arrival in the country.

According to him, the Immigration Act empowers him to revoke visas and confiscate passports of offenders, adding that the next visa for global travel is the COVID-19 certificate.
He stated that based on the powers conferred on him and the additional conditions for entering the country, every visitor must have the COVID-19 test result.

He also ruled out the possibility of compromise by the officers of the service in the reissuance of passports to the 100 Nigerians who were banned for six months from travelling for flouting the mandatory seven-day post-arrival COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction test.

Babandede said their passports had been blocked and they would not be allowed to depart the country or be reissued passports in any of the 89 passport offices in Nigerian and abroad.

“The public health is a big issue in the country and based on that directives, we have complied by blocking 100 passports from travelling, which means, even if they go to the police and declare those passports missing, they cannot be reissued anywhere in the world and they cannot cross our national borders until the period of six months or communication received from the right authorities stating that they have complied.

“This will also include non-Nigerians; we have the powers to revoke visas, the comptroller-general has the power to revoke visas,” Babandede said.
The National Coordinator of PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, also said if enforcement, which is the responsibility of the state governments and recourse to risk communication and community engagement fail in curbing the rising COVID-19 statistics, the federal government will not rule out all options, including another lockdown if the virus continues to spread.

Nigeria Targets 42m Vaccines through COVAX Scheme

A report yesterday by Reuters said Nigeria is hoping to get 42 million COVID-19 vaccines to cover 20 per cent of its population through the global COVAX scheme.
The agency quoted the Executive Director/CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, as saying yesterday that the batch of vaccines would come as part of Nigeria’s plan to inoculate 40 per cent of the population this year, with another 30 per cent in 2022.

By the end of January, 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to arrive, he said.
The COVAX scheme was set up to provide vaccines to poorer countries such as Nigeria, whose 200 million people and poor infrastructure pose a daunting challenge to medical officials rolling out the vaccinations as the West African country battles a second, larger spike in COVID-19 cases.

Nigeria will first inoculate frontline health workers, first responders, national leaders, people vulnerable to COVID-19 and the elderly, Shuaib said at the PTF press conference in Abuja.
He also underscored popular resistance to vaccines and said Nigeria must educate people on their importance.

FG to Pay Special Attention to South Africa, UK Arrivals
Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, also said at the PTF briefing that the federal government will pay special attention to passengers arriving from the United Kingdom and South Africa in the enforcement of COVID-19 protocols.
According to him, the ministry is currently working with the Ministry of Aviation to ensure strict enforcement of COVID-19 protocols at the local and international wings of airports nationwide.

“We are also working with the Aviation Ministry to ensure strict enforcement of COVID-19 protocols at the local and international wings of airports across the country taking cognizance of the high transmissibility of the new strain of the virus already confirmed in many countries.

“Particular attention in this regard is therefore being focused on passengers arriving from the UK and South Africa,” he said.
On the response to the current upsurge in infection, Olurunnimbe said federal government has been making efforts to ensure availability of oxygen on a short-term basis through collaboration with CACOVID while still pursuing the process for immediate intervention for nationwide equitable and sustainable oxygen availability at the government hospitals nationwide.

On the issue of vaccines, Olorunnimbe said the lead agency, NPHCDA, “is working with other stakeholders and partners in assessing the infrastructural gaps in terms of logistics for cold chain maintenance, storage, supply and distribution to ensure vaccine viability and reach all.”

20% of Tested Persons Turn Positive, Says Report

One in five persons tested for COVID-19 in Nigeria is positive, according to official data.
Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) compiled here, according to TheCable, show that the country’s positive rate jumped from 4.2 per cent to 21.3 per cent in the last month.

As of December 3, only 4.2 per cent of all COVID-19 tests — or roughly one in 25 samples — in Nigeria returned positive.
But as the second wave sweeps across the country, so is the number of positive cases rising.
The WHO data show that the positive rate stood at 21.3 per cent as of January 3, a steep rise in the number of positive diagnoses.

When a country’s positivity rate for COVID-19 is high, experts believe this indicates how widespread the virus is in the community.
It could also mean that the number of total tests being carried out is too low.
According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “a higher per cent positive suggests higher transmission and that there are likely more people with coronavirus in the community who haven’t been tested yet.

“A high per cent positive means that more testing should probably be done—and it suggests that it is not a good time to relax restrictions aimed at reducing coronavirus transmission … a high per cent positive can indicate it may be a good time to add restrictions to slow the spread of disease.”
Data from the NCDC show the country’s testing capacity still hovers between 35,000 and 45,000 weekly.

FG in Talks with China, Says Minister

The federal government has opened talks with China to have access to COVID-19 vaccines for Nigeria.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, told reporters yesterday in Abuja, shortly after a bilateral meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, who was in Nigeria on a working visit, that China was of immense assistance to Nigeria at the onset of the pandemic.

He stated that the donation of protective equipment helped the nation in the fight against COVID-19 during the first wave.
The minister said with countries discovering vaccines and China being one of them, Nigeria was engaging the country to access its the vaccine.

“We have received a lot of support from China in the area of personal protective equipment that they were very quick to provide us with.

“China is also one of those countries that have been able to discover vaccines for COVID-19, so we are also engaging with China to also help with regards to access to vaccines for our people,” he stated.
According to him, the relationship between both countries dated 50 years, adding that both countries have many areas of cooperation to celebrate.

“We also realised that in 2021, we would be celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the Peoples Republic of China,” he said.

Giving insights into some of the deliberations during the closed-door meeting, Onyeama said that he and his counterpart looked at the trade relations between the two countries and areas that could be improved.

“In the area of fostering relations, both countries are now considering having a direct flight from Nigeria to China.
“We want to establish a direct air link with China. We hope that very soon, a Nigerian carrier would be carrying out scheduled flights to China in the not too distant future,” Onyeama added.