Nigerians seek equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

…as UN, WHO to support vaccination drive

Nigerians have urged the Federal Government to ensure fair and equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines which have started arriving in the country.

Nigerians who spoke with BusinessDay, strongly advised the government to adhere strictly to its promise of considering the most vulnerable of the citizens, first, in the application of the vaccines as against allowing political influence to dictate the vaccination process.

Ojo Edetean, a public analyst noted that the vaccines remain the panacea for Nigeria to exit the pandemic and fully reopen economic activities, but expressed concern about how fairly they would be distributed.

He feared that the vaccines may not be fairly distributed as government officials and the wealthy in the country may hoard them for their families, thereby denying the most vulnerable of the masses.

Edetean, therefore, urged the government to ensure that the requirements for the vaccine deployment are thoroughly maintained, so that the cold chain is not broken. He also warned that anything below requirement could affect the quality of the vaccines or have an adverse effect on those administered to.

Obinna Ebirim, a public health promotion specialist, while reiterating that vaccines remain the most cost-effective intervention to shield Nigerians from the virus, also called on the government to keep to its word and follow plans of ensuring that those who need it the most are prioritised.

“As Nigeria receives these vaccines, what is important is that those strategies and plans which the government has rolled out are followed. This is not the time for the ‘Nigerian factor’; this is not time for ‘who knows who’, it is time to follow world best practice,” he warned.

Ebirim further urged Nigerians to make themselves available for vaccination, so that the country can achieve the much desired herd immunity.

“A self-registration portal has been opened by the NPHCDA on their website. I encourage those at risk to take advantage of this opportunity to register and get a schedule to be vaccinated”, he said.

“Less than four million doses of vaccines is quite small for a country of 200 million, but if the government decides to follow its strategy, maybe we will get lucky,” an Abuja-based Adeleke Mayowa told BusinessDay.

Nigeria on Tuesday received 3.94 million doses of the long- awaited AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII). The consignment arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, from Mumbai.

The vaccines came under the COVAX facility, co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working in partnership with UNICEF, the World Bank, civil society organisations, manufacturers, and others.

The delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine is part of an overall 16 million doses planned to be delivered to Nigeria in batches over the next months by the COVAX Facility, as part of an unprecedented global effort to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Nigeria is the 3rd country in West Africa to receive these vaccines from COVAX after Ghana and Ivory Coast. Nigeria is also the first country to revive the highest number of doses from the facility.

Ghana has received 600,000 doses while Ivory Coast received 504, 000 doses from COVAX.

“The UN Country Team in Nigeria reiterates its commitment to support the vaccination campaign in Nigeria and help contain the spread of the virus,” said Edward Kallon, UN resident coordinator in Nigeria.

“The arrival of these vaccines in Abuja today marks a milestone for the COVAX Facility in its unprecedented effort to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of 2021.”

The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine will enable the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to commence the vaccination of Nigerians in priority groups, starting with frontline healthcare workers.

“This is a landmark moment for the country and the COVAX Facility’s mission to help end the acute phase of the pandemic by enabling equitable access to these vaccines across the world. We are glad to see Nigeria is amongst the first receiving the doses from COVAX, thanks to the excellent level of preparedness put in place by the Government of Nigeria,” said Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director for Country Programmes at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“Gavi looks forward to these vaccines being made available to the people most at risk, as soon as possible, and to ensuring that routine immunization services for other life-threatening infections are also delivered to avoid other disease outbreaks.”

Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO Representative in Nigeria, said: “It is heart-warming to witness this epoch-making event and WHO wishes to congratulate the government of Nigeria for its participation in the global vaccine collaboration (COVAX) efforts and its commitment to protecting Nigerians against this pandemic. Vaccines are a critical new tool in the battle against COVID-19; therefore, this is a step in the right direction. These vaccines have undergone rigorous regulatory processes at global and country level and have been deemed safe and effective.”

The COVAX Facility is expected to deliver around 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the African Region in the first quarter of 2021 and has committed to providing up to 600 million doses to the region by end-2021 to cover 20 percent of the population.

“After a year of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, today we celebrate the efforts being made in getting the vaccine to Nigeria. With more than 150,000 Nigerians infected with the virus and over 1,800 lives lost, the path to recovery for the people of Nigeria can finally begin,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative.

“This is a very significant occasion – the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines into Nigeria is critical in curbing the pandemic. The only way out of this crisis is to ensure that vaccinations are available to all.”

COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

COVAX has set on track to meet its goal of delivering at least 2 billion doses of vaccine to participating countries around the globe in 2021, including at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 lower-income COVAX Facility participants supported by the Gavi COVAX AMC.

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