Onyebuchi Ezigbo examines the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines donated by COVAX to Nigeria and its implications for Nigerians at large including strategies for widespread acceptance, storage, and equitable distribution
Nigeria has finally received the 3.92 millions COVID-19 vaccines donated by COVAX for use in vaccinating frontline health workers and other segements of the society considered strategic and disease burdened.
However, the receipt of the first batch of the COVID-19 marks the beginning of a very challenging time for the country. Amidst anxiety and lots of expectations in the land, Emirates Airline plane landed in the country with 3.92′ million doses of Astrazeneca vaccines. As the plane conveying the COVID-19 vaccine into the country touched the ground of the Abuja International Airport at about 11.25 am, the reality dawned on the leadership of the country’s health sector that they are faced with the task of conducting one of biggest vaccination campaign in the nation’s recent history.
Apart from highly technical expertise needed in the handling of the vaccines, there are other issues like logistics, distribution, storage, personnel, demand for equitable access in the sharing of the vaccines to states.
At the airport to receive the vaccines were members of the Presidential Taskforce on Control COVID-19 and a team of experts from the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) in a brief ceremony to mark the hand over of the consignment of the vaccine to the Nigerian government COVAX officials, Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire pledged that the ministry and the agencies responsible for administering the vaccine will ensure that it’s satisfactorily carried out.
As vehicles conveyed the vaccine to its temporary abode at country’s National Strategic Cold Store located the Jabi district in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, arrangements are already being to secure fresh endorsement from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
One of the immediate challenges that those charged with the roll out of the national vaccination campaign is how to deal with the high level of apathy and lack of acceptance of the vaccine for prevention of COVID-19.
Speaking on the arrival of the 3.3 million doses of Astrazeneca vaccines to Nigeria, an expert in infectious disease control, Prof. Olawale Tomori said that government should move quickly to address the issue of vaccine hesitancy. Tomori who was a guest at the Arise Television programme, “The Morning Show” said there is still so much doubt about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.
He said that one of things that the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) should do is to find ways in clearing such doubts and letting people know that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
“I think a large number of Nigerians don’t want to hear about vaccines and feel that this should be addressed. Convince the people that this vaccine is effective and the first group of people you vaccinate are the elite. Let’s hold a vaccine rally and first vaccinate these big people and let Nigerians know that yes if these people have taken the vaccine and didn’t die, then we should also take ours,” he said.
Tomori said the leadership of various arms of government should be publicly vaccinated by NPHCDA to serve as an example and encouragement for other Nigerians harbouring any doubt.
Politics of Vaccine Deployment, Sharing Formula
Although the goverment has promised to ensure that every eligible Nigerians are vaccinated and that vaccines doses will be deployed across the country, there is already a brewing agitation over the criteria to be used in sharing by federal government.
Even before the arrival of the first batch of vaccines, the issue of allocation of vaccine doses has started generating concerns, especially among state governors. There were some figures already allocated to states as doses of the vaccines to be deployed based of preponderance of COVID-19 cases.
Many state governors have criticised the sharing formula said to emanate from the NPHCDA. But the Executive Director of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib has cleared the air on the matter, saying that decision has not been taken of the issue of allocation of vaccines to various vaccination centre across the states. Shuaib said that figures flying around may be from a draft that was being drawn up preparatory to the receipt of the vaccines.
According Shuaib, “now that the vaccines have arrived and we know the numbers, the agency and the Commitee on Vaccine Intervention will meet the governors to work out modalities for the deployment of vaccines.”
Also in order to avoid racketeering of the vaccines, federal government has banned private sector procurement and sale of vaccines. Ehanire explained that the measure is for purposes of safe and proper management of the COVID-19 vaccination including dealing with any after effects, that federal government has banned private sector deployment of the vaccines.
Barring private sector participation in vaccine deployment implies that government will have to take the responsibility of ensuring that these vaccines are available to all Nigerians who are eligible.
Tomori also spoke on the need to ensure sustained flow of the vaccines until every eligible Nigerians get vaccinated.
“If we start rolling out these vaccines now, what’s the gurantee that more vaccines will be available in the future. We waited for almost four months before the arrival of this first batch. When is the next batch coming so that there is no stop in the process of vaccine roll. If you start now and in the next three or four months we don’t have more vaccines, people will begin to lose interest.
“Going by the assurances given by the Minister of Health that the government has made arrangements for more millions of vaccine doses to arrive the country, one could say that we may get things right after all just as we manage to pull through the one of COVID-19 pandemic.
Dealing with Likely Agitation by Health Workers
Another issue that might spark off crisis as the country prepares to roll out COVID-19 vaccines is the strained relationship among the health workers. If one considers what happened at the on set of COVID-19 pandemic in the country when professionals in the health sector were scrambling for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), then there is a likelihood that sharing limited doses of Astrazeneca vaccines will be problematic.
Currently, the number of health workers in the runs into millions, and they are expected to share the first batch vaccine with other prioritised leaders and disease burdened patients.