• Monday, June 24, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Nigeria lags on COVID-19 vaccination, one year after

Nigeria to produce COVID candidate vaccine in 2023

Godsgift Onyedinefu, Abuja

One year after Nigeria commenced vaccination against COVID-19, only nine percent of eligible citizens have been fully vaccinated, BusinessDay has learnt.

In March 2021, the Federal Government set a target to vaccinate over 111 million eligible Nigerians by the end of 2022. The government said it would vaccinate 50 percent of the population by January 2022 but failed to reach that target.

Nigeria has enough vaccines in stock and more expected as the year unfolds, according to health authorities. But high vaccine hesitancy, poor leadership by several state governments and rising insecurity are slowing down vaccination, said stakeholders who spoke at a recent meeting to evaluate progress made on vaccination.

They noted that the hesitancy is not just among the public, but health workers and public leaders. The Macarthur Foundation in Nigeria noted that the government had done well with the vaccine campaign but inoculation remained very low. In December 2021, the government destroyed more than one million vaccines that could not be administered before expiration.

To tackle the low uptake, the government created mass vaccination sites in various public places, including academic institutions, markets, bus stops, places of worship, and sporting events.

“In line with the commitment to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine uptake, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has put in place plans for the establishment of mass vaccination sites across the country. The objective of this is to vaccinate a high volume of individuals through,” Faisal Shuaib, executive director of the agency, had said at a recent media briefing in Abuja.

But Remi Adeleke, acting head of public relations unit at NPHCDA, told BusinessDay that the government had stopped the mass vaccination programme, but declined comments on why it ended barely two months after rollout.

Another official in the agency said the programme could not continue due to paucity of funds. “The programme is very cost-effective and we could not get support.”

Ebirim Obinna, a public health consultant and health promotion specialist, said the decision to stop the programme might be due to the inability of the government to meet up with the cost of running it in terms of infrastructure and manpower.

According to him, the decision is not in the best interest of the vaccination programme, especially as the country is still far from meeting its target.

“This would have an impact in terms of reaching more people, especially in the communities, with vaccination and the speed at which we achieve herd immunity.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reiterated that COVID-19 is not over yet and remains a threat until nations achieve herd immunity. Former WHO epidemiologist, Adrian Esterman, recently warned that the new variant in circulation known as Deltacron could be as contagious as measles.

“Omicron BA.2 (Deltacron) is about 1.4 times more infectious than BA.1. The basic reproduction number (R0) for BA.1 is about 8.2, making R0 for BA.2 about 12. This makes it pretty close to measles, the most contagious disease we know about,” Esterman had said.

The epidemiologist predicted that the new variant could cause numbers to skyrocket in the coming months.

Akin Abayomi, Lagos state commissioner for health, recently warned that the state might experience a fifth wave following the emergence of the new variants.

“We are expecting a fifth wave in Lagos State; we don’t know what it will be, but we are waiting for it. Omicron went through Lagos like wildfire; we don’t know what the new variants are going to do. We have to again be careful about our ports of entry. We need to keep up the vaccination so that when a new wave comes, it won’t make people sick,” he had said at a health summit in Abuja.

Read also: Alliance berates proposed terms of IP waiver on COVID vaccines

WHO says countries need to vaccinate at least 70 percent of population to achieve herd immunity that will shield the country from the virus or any devastating impact of the pandemic

As of March 14, 2022, 10,139,483 persons have been fully vaccinated in Nigeria, while 19,408,426 have been partially vaccinated. By the end of 2021, Nigeria did not make the list of 15 African countries that fully immunised 10 percent of eligible population against the COVID-19 – a target set by the World Health Assembly.

Osagie Ehanire, minister for health, while addressing concerns around the slow process, attributed it to the double dose vaccines being administered by Nigeria.

The minister, speaking recently in Abuja, said the Federal Government had over 30 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in stock, which is a single-dose vaccine, and urged Nigerians to show up for vaccination.

But several unvaccinated Nigerians who spoke to BusinessDay believe that the virus no longer exists in the country or is no more a threat, and see no need to take the vaccine. Some of those who have taken their first dose are reluctant to take the second dose.

“I believe that COVID is no longer in Nigeria; it’s no longer a problem for concern,” Princess Kelechi said. “Today, we have bigger problems in the country; Lassa fever, cholera, and HIV are seriously killing people. Prices of goods are rising too. I think these are problems we need solutions for, not COVID; that disease does not exist anymore. The government should refocus resources and stop deceiving us that they are fighting a virus that has left Nigeria.”

Another Nigerian, Amos Udoekong, said, “I have taken my first dose, but that is because the organisation I work for made it compulsory, but I will not take the second dose. I was just interested in getting the vaccine certificate.”

Adaobi Onyechi, a virologist and public health expert, noted that some countries had relaxed restrictions, saying this might further slow vaccine uptake. “You know that the UK is already towing in this direction. People are moving on and this will affect the pace of vaccinations. I fear that this target may never be achieved, and it may be too late when a deadly variant hits us,” she said.