WHO Denies Disqualifying Nigeria from Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

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By Olawale Ajimotokan

The World Health Organization (WHO) has refuted a report that it had denied Nigeria and several African countries from access to COVID-19.

WHO Country Representative in Nigeria Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo gave the clarification Saturday at a joint press conference of the WHO and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) held in Abuja on the purported disqualification of Nigeria from access to COVID 19 vaccines.

The denial was on the heel of insinuation that WHO had denied Nigeria access to the vaccines through the COVAX facility because of concern about lack of electricity for storage and logistics for distribution of the vaccines across the nation.

The report credited to WHO African Region Director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, had claimed that only four countries- Cape Verde, South Africa, Tunisia and Rwanda had been allocated with around 320,000 doses of Pfizer BioNTech vaccines because they were the only countries with the facilities to store and distribute doses at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

However, Dr Mulombo insisted that WHO had not disqualified any country in Africa from accessing COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, but rather supporting all countries to access vaccines as quickly as possible.

The WHO country representative said all African countries were expected to start accessing the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines by the end of the month, adding the vaccine is under review by WHO for Emergency Use Listing while the outcome is expected soon.

He stressed that Nigeria had received by far the largest allocation, with 16 million doses of the 88 million AstraZeneca doses allocated to African countries for the first phase, adding aside Astra Zeneca doses, there is an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine available through COVAX.

“Demand for the initial allocation of 1.2 million Pfizer doses was exceptionally high. COVAX received interest from 72 countries around the world, of which 51 countries were considered by the review committee as “ready” (Nigeria was among these countries) and 18 countries in total were finally chosen to receive initial Pfizer doses.

“On the Africa continent, as of the 18 January deadline, COVAX received 13 submissions and a multi-agency committee evaluated the proposals of which nine were recommended as ready to deploy the Pfizer vaccine including Nigeria.

“Unfortunately, it was not feasible to provide each of these 51 countries with Pfizer doses, due to a number of factors including the limited capacity for Pfizer to handle many countries at once. Therefore, spreading the limited doses across all the 51 countries deemed ‘ready’ could not have Achieved the intended public health benefit,” Mulombo said.

He disclosed that after epidemiological data was taken into account, the decision was taken to proportionally balance the number of self-financing and AMC participants, as well as participants across all six WHO regions.