•President, SGF ask Nigerians to take vaccines, say it’s safe, efficacious
•Presidency: No side effect on president
Deji Elumoye and Chuks Okocha in Abuja
The federal government on Saturday made good its promise to publicly vaccinate top government officials against the COVID-19 pandemic, with President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo openly receiving their vaccination jabs.
In a late night statement yesterday, the Media Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Garba Shehu, stated emphatically that the COVID-19 vaccine jab received earlier on Saturday by President Buhari had no side effect on him.
Shehu assured all Nigerians and dispelled fears and misconceptions about the safety of the vaccine administered on President Buhari and the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo saying there was no cause for alarm.
Buhari’s media aide said the President went about his routine duties after receiving the vaccine jab adding that the vaccine has no side effects on his principal.
His words: “After he got his jab, the President felt normal and went about doing his job. If there are side effects that follow, we will be open about that but so far there is nothing of a side effect, serious or mild on the President. He is carrying on as normal.
“We hope this will help to send a strong message among the people, especially those grappling with hesitancy about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine”.
The event held at the new Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja attracted top government officials, including Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who also chairs the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19; Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari; and Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.
Buhari asked Nigerians to avail themselves of the opportunity to be vaccinated, saying he has ultimate faith in the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines.
Mustapha, who described the vaccines as “very safe and efficacious”, refuted claims that the federal government earmarked N10.6 billion as logistics for the distribution of the vaccines across the country.
Speaking shortly after the vaccine was administered on his right arm by his personal Physician, Dr. Sanusi Rafindadi, and the left arm of Osinbajo by the latter’s personal physician, Dr. Nicholas Audifferen, Buhari described his decision to take the vaccine in public as “a demonstration of leadership and faith in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.” He said, “I have received my first jab and I wish to recommend it to all eligible Nigerians, to do same so that we can be protected from the virus.”
The president said all state governments as well as traditional and religious leaders should take the lead in the mobilisation effort for the vaccination within their territories and spheres of influence.
He added, “The vaccine offers hope for a safe country, free of coronavirus. I similarly urge all eligible Nigerians to present themselves and be vaccinated in accordance with the order of priority already mapped out, at the various authorised designated centres only.”
Buhari congratulated the PTF on COVID-19 for the successful multi-sector approach to the management of the pandemic. He acknowledged and commended the support of governments, donors, development partners, the private sector, traditional and religious leaders, as well as critical stakeholders, who had supported Nigeria in its response to the pandemic, assuring them that all the resources would be equitably administered.
The president noted that since the beginning of 2020, humanity had remained under the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unseen but very potent enemy around the world.
He stated, “Infection from the virus has resulted in over two million and five hundred thousand fatalities and destroyed several global and national systems. The response in Nigeria and the ECOWAS sub-region has been robust, collaborative and united. It was driven by a collective knowledge of the fact that ‘no country is safe until every country is safe’.
“The speedy development of the COVID-19 vaccines is quite significant and underscores the collective resolve of humanity to overcome the pandemic. Similarly, the collaborative effort to ensure equal access has brought relief to poor and developing countries.”
Buhari spoke of the assurance by the PTF that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which Nigeria has accessed, would arrive in batches, beginning with the four million doses already received. He added that the rollout and administration plan would cater to over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population in 2021 and 2022.
Earlier, Mustapha said with the vaccination of the president and the vice president, they had demonstrated leadership “by offering themselves for the Nigerian people to believe in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines that we have procured and its being deployed.”
Mustapha said soon, no one would be able to travel without being vaccinated. He advised Nigerians not to listen to conspiracy theories about the vaccines but to take them.
According to the SGF, “I think vaccine hesitancy would have to give way to the reality, because the truth about it is that very soon, nobody will be able to travel the world, unless you produce the certificate that we have been given. I have not confirmed but reliably, some countries have started putting restrictions on receiving visitors, even exercising activities of their faith without a COVID-19 vaccination.
“So, the word that is going out there, on behalf of Mr. President, is that Nigerians should make themselves available, those that are eligible in the first set of the deployment, because the deployment is going to be in four phases, to receive these vaccines. They have been tested; our most strategic leadership has received them this morning. They are safe, efficacious and it is for the good and wellbeing of our people.
“I wish many make themselves available, and not listen to any conspiracy theories, and not listen to any misinformation, but make themselves available as eligible Nigerians to receive these vaccines and, when it is their turn to do so.”
Ehanire said the jab was painless and a narrow gauge syringe was used with small quantity injected in the upper arm. He said the after effects were mild and little discomfort followed in the area that was injected.
The minister thanked Buhari and Osinbajo for agreeing to the publicised application of the vaccinations against COVID-19. He said this would boost the morale of the health sector and reassure the public as to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, which have been of concern to the public. He said five main pillars had been laid out for the COVID-19 vaccination.
Ehanire said, “First is to continue to scale up the dynastic and case finding, infection prevention and control to reduce infections that arise in our country. Secondly, to continue to improve the therapeutics and the case management they have graciously agreed to ensure oxygen plants, at least 88 of them in the country, because we have discovered that high flow oxygen supplementation is key to the treatment of COVID-19 severe cases.
“We have also made the point to continue to sustain, essentially, the routine medical services. So, we do not lose sight of this area and begin to see more fatalities coming even from non-COVID cases, due to fear of COVID or too much focus on COVID. We tend to continue to press on our routine medical services.
“The fourth is the introduction of the emergency medical service – an ambulance system – in your country, which we believe will reduce maternal mortality under-five mortality, accident mortality and all the mortality we see in unexpected events and the country’s health system will be able to respond promptly to citizens, when they are in distress. They know whom to call upon.
“The fifth and the final is the introduction of COVID vaccines. We have been a long way; it has taken about a year of record scientific work to come about these vaccines in many countries. The shortest period it does take to develop a vaccine before this was four years. And that was a vaccine against mumps. So, this has come up as a very fast intervention and it is for that reason that some people have apprehensions about these vaccines, which governments are at pains to dispel.
“We in Nigeria have finally received our own allegation of accidents. The first comment is AstraZeneca, which is very well known, developed in the UK, is a company that is both British and Swedish. And it is now produced under licence in several countries. The batch we are getting is from the civil Institute of India, which is the largest vaccine production site in the world.
“This vaccine is safe and has been administered to millions of persons and it is also well sought after. Just a day or two ago, we had reports of a diplomatic squabble between Italy and Australia over AstraZeneca vaccines and where they should go to fast. They is still vaccine nationalism. And we do hope that with your support, Your Excellency, we are continuing to get the flow of vaccines to continue that decentralisation process.”
Meanwhile, the federal government has described as fake reports that it budgeted the sum of N10.6 billion to transport COVID-19 vaccines to the 36 states and the 774 local government areas as well as the Federal Capital Territory and the five area councils. Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Faisal Shuaib, who spoke after the vaccination of both the president and vice president, explained that the private sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) had undertaken to distribute the vaccines to states at no cost to the federal government.
Shuaib stated, “We’ve communicated very clearly to Nigerians that the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), a private sector initiative, has provided a cargo plane that will help deliver the vaccines from Abuja to all states that have functional airports. For those that do not have functional airports, there is a delivery van that will convey the vaccines from those airports to the states.
“I do not see how that is going to cost N10 billion. So, there is no truth in that information. The truth is that CACOVID has taken up the responsibility of delivering the vaccines from Abuja to the states. The only cost we’re going to incur is the cost of delivering the vaccines from any airport to nearby states that don’t have functional airports. Clearly, that cannot be N10.6 billion.”
In a related development, governors of the 36 states of the federation have called on the federal government to support them with logistics and inoculation activities ahead of the COVID-19 vaccination exercise in the states. The governors also resolved to take actions that would ensure a smooth vaccine rollout exercise across the country, starting March 10, after an extensive discussion on the vaccine administration.
According to a communiqué issued after the governors’ meeting and signed by Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the governors plan to initiate the launch of the vaccination programme in all states from March 10.
The governors said they would ensure strict compliance and prioritisation of the list of eligible persons to be vaccinated, starting with all frontline workers, support staff, COVID-19 rapid response teams, workers in laboratory networks, isolation and treatment centres, as well as tertiary and specialist hospitals. Also, strategic leaders will be vaccinated to give confidence to the public on the safety of the vaccine, the communiqué stated.
The communiqué said the second phase of the exercise would prioritise older adults (50 and above), while the third and 4th phases would focus on adults (18 – 49), with co-morbidities, such as hypertension, diabetes, lung disease, and other health conditions; and adults (18 – 49 years) without any underlying health condition, as well as the rest of the population.
The governors stated that they had resolved to actively monitor the vaccine administration in their states through a vaccine implementation dashboard and facilitate the timely release of counterpart funds from state governments to ensure the vaccine rollout exercise ran smoothly. They pledged that they would scale up all vaccine communication and advocacy mechanisms already in place in states to reduce the level of vaccination hesitancy among Nigerians.
The governors pledged to provide adequate security in all state and local government-owned cold stores that would be used for storing the vaccines.