Nigeria Turns to Russia, India as Scramble for COVID-19 Vaccines Heighten

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Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire

By Onyebuchi Ezigbo

In a bid to ensure that Nigeria is not left out in the scramble for COVID-19 vaccines, the federal government said that it has obtained vaccine samples from Russia and India for testing by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

The latest move came in the wake of a disclosure by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that 75 health workers in the country have tested positive to the virus in the last one week.

Speaking yesterday in Abuja at a media briefing by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire said that federal government is strictly monitoring development in the international scene, especially with regard to the procurement of vaccines for the country.

However, he expressed concern over report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the scramble for the limited quantities of vaccines by powerful nations.

“We have been keeping a strict eye on the vaccines’ scene and those who follow international news would have heard of the scramble for vaccines, which has pitched some countries against each other in Europe, as wealthy high-income countries have pre-paid to allocate vaccines to themselves.

“A spokesperson for the World Health Organisation estimated that 95 per cent of vaccines manufactured globally so far has gone to only 10 rich and powerful countries, “ he said.

Ehanire said that Nigeria is joining the WHO in urging for global equity in the allocation of vaccines, since the pandemic is a threat to mankind and not only to any country alone.

Ehanire said that the Director General of the WHO has repeatedly stated that no country is safe till all countries are safe.

The minister explained that the date of first arrival of vaccines in Nigeria has kept changing because the decision lies with the manufacturer, who already has heavy commitments.

According to him, Nigeria has been advised to expect the first batch of vaccines from COVAX, from February.

He said the government will continue to review plans to ensure smooth rollout of vaccines in the country.

He said federal government will need the full cooperation and support of state governments with regard to the remuneration of vaccinators.

“The NAFDAC is the approving Agency for all vaccines that will be used in Nigeria and this approval is required and must be sought before importation. Till date, only two companies have submitted the samples of their vaccines to NAFDAC, where the evaluation is ongoing.

“Vaccines without NAFADAC certification are illegal and may be dangerous in the light of fake vaccines, said to be already in circulation in parts of Europe,” he said.

Speaking further on the status of vaccine procurement drive, Ehanire said Nigeria has been allocated over 41million doses by the African Union’s African Vaccines Acquisition Task Team (AVATT).

He also assured that the country is expecting 15 million of about 42 million doses from COVAX.

“Altogether, it will give us coverage for over 50 per cent of our target for 2021, if we can access all doses promised,” he said.

Ehanire said the Ministry of Health and its agencies will be engaging with various segments of society in the coming weeks to sensitise them on Infection Prevention and Control and vaccines.

The Director General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu in his update lamented that the country has been witnessing increasing casualties from the pandemic since the beginning of the new year.

He said that 75 health workers have tested positive to the virus in the last one week, a situation he described as tragic.

Ihekweazu advised all health workers to strictly adhere to the health protocols to avoid being victims of the pandemic, adding that the lives of other Nigerians who might be infected by diseases depends to a large extent on their ability to come to their rescue.