FG May Expand Access to Covid-19 Vaccination Ahead of December Deadline

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*Resolves to enhancing security features of cards
*US donates over 3.5 million doses of vaccine to Nigeria

Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Michael Olugbode in Abuja
Following the federal government’s December deadline for civil servants to get the COVID-19 vaccination as precondition for accessing their offices, the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) has expressed its commitment to ramping up vaccine uptake across the country.

The agency said it had put in place plans for the establishment of mass vaccination sites across the country. It also said the government had begun to work on the possibility of enhancing the security features of the vaccination cards to limit forgery.

Executive Director of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said at a media briefing on Thursday in Abuja that the objective of the strategy was to vaccinate a large number of people through big sites, such as federal institutions (universities, polytechnics), shopping malls, religious centres, sporting events, conference centres, and markets.

Shuaib said the agency had already done a comprehensive analysis and forecast of COVID-19 vaccines’ availability.
He said, “We have enough vaccines to cover more than this population of federal government employees and we are expecting even much more. Based on delivery forecasts from the COVAX facility and the African Union, Nigeria will have adequate vaccines to cover more than 50% of eligible populations by the end of the first quarter of 2022.”
Shuaib explained that the agency was currently enhancing the security features of the vaccination cards in order to limit forgery.

According to him, “We are working with relevant security agencies to make examples of these individuals, who may wish to buy or sell the cards by naming and shaming them. We are also enhancing the security features of our vaccination cards in order to limit forgery.”
The executive director said the exercise would require strong collaboration between NPHCDA, state governments, religious bodies, school authorities, and governing bodies of malls and large sporting events.

He said, “As we expand the vaccination sites, we encourage all eligible Nigerians to avail themselves for vaccination. I am also glad to inform you that we have commenced the process of decentralising COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria, to include private health care providers. This is to expand access and increase utilisation of the vaccines.”

Shuaib assured that decentralisation would not affect the federal government’s free vaccination policy, adding that COVID-19 vaccines would be administered free of charge at both government and private health facilities and the vaccination cards would be given free of charge after vaccination.

He, however, noted that private health facilities might need to charge for their hospital registration cards, which would be different from the COVID-19 vaccination cards.
Shuaib said in order to ensure a seamless decentralisation, the agency had begun the training of health workers in selected private health care facilities and the sensitisation of critical stakeholders to create awareness on the plan and criteria for involving the private sector in COVID-19 vaccination.

He said the process of involving the private sector would be transparently done in line with the agency’s pledge of accountability to Nigerians.
On the supervision of private healthcare providers involved in COVID-19 vaccination, the NPHCDA boss said the agency was putting measures in place to ensure close and effective monitoring and supervision of participating private health facilities to ensure standards were not compromised.

He said interested private health facilities would be required to meet certain criteria, including having the requisite qualified health care workers, among others. To ensure delivery of the vaccines by private health facilities as expected, he said the agency would engage in regular supervisory visits to the facilities and provide clear rules of engagement to the participating facilities.

Shuaib gave an update on the vaccination efforts, saying as at the morning of October 14, a total of 5,246,523 eligible populations had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria, representing 4.7 per cent of Nigeria’s target population.
He further said the number of eligible persons fully vaccinated in Nigeria was now 2,546,094, representing 2.3 per cent of the target population.

Shuaib also gave an update on the outcome of the study on the vaccination exercise conducted in six states of the federation, namely Anambra, Borno, Edo, Katsina, Lagos, and Plateau. He said the overall aim of the observational study was to monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in enrolled adult individuals of 18 years and above, who had received the authorised COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria for the purpose of safety signal detection.

Shuaib disclosed that Professor Akin Osibogun, a Professor of Community Medicine at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, led the study. He said the study sought to estimate the incidence of adverse events following immunisation with different brands of the COVID-19 vaccine in all enrolled immunised subjects.

Shuaib explained, “Findings of this study showed that 52.6 per cent of enrolees (1,284 were enrolled) reported non-serious adverse effects and only one subject or 0.08 per cent reported serious adverse effect in the first week following vaccination. None of the enrolled subjects, who reported adverse effects, required hospitalisation.

“The commonest reported symptoms among vaccines were tenderness at injection site (20.9 per cent) and fever (20.3 per cent). Most of the reported symptoms (55.5 per cent) occurred within the first three days of vaccination while 40.2 per cent of the vaccines with reported symptoms could not recall time of onset of symptoms. “

But the adverse effects, he stated, were reported more in the older age groups, with 61.5 per cent of those older than 60 years reporting symptoms compared to 34.9 per cent of those aged 18-24 years.

He said the difference for age was statistically significant (p=0.003).
Shuaib stated, “Those with pre-existing morbidities were also observed to have higher rates of reported symptoms (AEFIs) than those without pre-existing morbidities even though the observed difference was not statistically significant (p=0.551)
“The findings suggest that from the perspective of public communication, the vaccine is quite safe and the reported symptoms are mild and to be expected in the first three days following vaccination.

“Older vaccines are to be particularly counselled as to what to expect and not to panic as the symptoms are mild and time limited. During this study, there was no report of Vaccine-induced COVID-19 or deaths related to the vaccines.”
US Donates over 3.5 million Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine to Nigeria

Meanwhile, the United States has shipped in over 3.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines into Nigeria.
A statement yesterday from the US Embassy noted that the US Mission in Nigeria was pleased, “to announce the arrival of 3,577,860 doses of Pfizer vaccine for the public health and benefit of the Nigerian people through COVAX, the worldwide initiative ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.”

The statement further disclosed that the US shipment arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on October 14.
According to the statement, the shipment would bring the total number of US-bilaterally donated doses to Nigeria to over 7.5 million, noting that the US also contributed to the first multilateral donation of AstraZeneca vaccine in March 2021.

That meant that overall, COVAX has provided Nigeria with over 10 million doses to date.
“Safe and effective vaccines are our best tool to ending the pandemic. The United States has pledged to purchase and donate 1.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide, and to date has delivered more than 180 million doses to more than 100 countries,” it added.

The US government pointed out that its continued efforts to provide vaccines to African Union (AU) member countries was to fulfill President Biden’s pledge when he said: “The United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic.”

The statement further noted that vaccine donations were part of the US government’s continued partnership with the government of Nigeria in combatting COVID-19.
“To date, the US government has provided $130 million of support to Nigeria’s Ministry of Health and Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19. The US government is looking forward to continued coordination with Nigeria and its Center for Disease Control to deliver life-saving doses across the country through the COVAX initiative,” it added.