By Deji Elumoye
The hope of Nigerians having early access to the use of vaccines for the prevention of COVID-19 pandemic appears dashed as federal government has claimed it cannot be specific when the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines will arrive the country.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, told journalists at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the State House, Abuja that government was no longer sure when exactly the vaccines would arrive the country, saying the delivery of the vaccines is not in the hands of the Nigerian government.
His words: “But the question is, when are they delivering? That is not in our hands. It is the hand of the person who is bringing it to us. “We have been told to open an account with Afreximbank under the African Union; we have done that already successfully because we are going to pay for that part of the vaccine. The COVAX vaccine is free, at no cost to us, it is made from donations
“Now, the COVAX will start delivering to African countries before the end of February. That’s what they told us. But they didn’t tell us which country is first or which is second, which is third.
“So, COVAX begins to deliver before the end of February. And we hope that before the end of this month, it would be our turn or latest by beginning of next month.”
He however reiterated that Nigeria is expecting the COVID-19 vaccines from three donor sources, which should satisfy the need of the country without having to procure.
Ehanire explained that the country is expecting vaccine supplies from COVAX facilitated by the World Health Organisation (WHO); the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) set up by the African Union.
This, he stated, is apart from individuals, government and organisations that are making vaccine donations to the country.
According to the minister, “We are ready to use vaccination once it arrives; we met all the conditions. They have asked us to sign an indemnification form; we have done that. Indemnification means that you do not hold us responsible for anything that happens from using this vaccine. That’s a standard process. We’ve signed that indemnification and so we are waiting for the vaccines to arrive anytime.
“I don’t think that they will arrive in all African countries at the same time. They arrive one by one stage by stage or the order in which they arrive is determined by COVAX, who is the entity deleting this vaccine.
“Now the largest number of vaccines we are getting is AstraZeneca in Africa, and this AstraZeneca is made under the licence. It’s a UK vaccine but is manufactured under licence by the Serum Institute of India. So, Serum Institute of India is donating all these vaccines.”
On why Nigeria is receiving the AstraZeneca vaccines whose rollout has been discontinued by South Africa because it was found to be less effective, Ehanire disclosed that WHO has said the country can make use of it.
He added that the South African variant of the virus is not in Nigeria, noting therefore that the AstraZeneca vaccine can provide immunity to citizens.
“South Africa discovered that these vaccine had some weaknesses against their own variant, the South African virus variant. It’s a peculiar variant by itself and the South Africans say that it didn’t seem to be very effective against their own variant.
“Now, we turn to the World Health Organisation and say what do we do? They say, well, if you don’t have that variant, don’t worry, use it. In Nigeria, we do not have the South African variant. So, use it, it will be effective. “Therefore, we are using it because we do not have the South African virus variant here in our country. And if you start the vaccination on time and get Nigerians immunised, then they are immune and even if the variant comes in later on, it probably will not have any effect.