Nigeria’s herd immunity goal suffers on vaccine shortage

…as experts urge FG to push harder for patent release

Nigeria may never achieve its herd immunity goal of fully vaccinating up to 70 percent of its population against the coronavirus pandemic, as access to vaccines remains stifled and hesitancy towards uptake draws the country farther from its vaccination target, health analysts say.

At best, they think Nigerians might have to live with the virus as an endemic disease such as malaria or see it fade away just how the Spanish flu of 1918 disappeared after killing an estimated 500,000 Nigerians.

The absence of a local vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa’s largest economy and its beggared posture of relying heavily on reluctant donors have had analysts conclude that the vaccination execution plan is very unrealistic.

Nigeria without doubt falls in the group of 42 African countries that the World Health Organisation (WHO) worries will miss the urgent global goal of vaccinating the most vulnerable 10 percent of their populations against COVID-19 by the end of September.

Just over 9.7 million vaccine doses have been received through donations and procurement, as 1.1 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine supplied to the Federal Government on Wednesday by the African Union added to the stock available.

This leaves Nigeria’s vaccination rate as one of the lowest in Africa with approximately 2.4 percent of the population covered, data from the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC) show.

Roughly 4 million doses have been administered when peers such as South Africa have done 15.3 million, Egypt 9.3 million, and Morocco 33.3 million.

The country needs additional 285.6 million vaccine doses to reach herd immunity level, according to BusinessDay’s calculations, and must stop infections on its track to hit 200, 000 confirmed cases and rising deaths.

It seems Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder that might only take a very dangerous strain of the coronavirus to trigger a full-blown public health crisis.

Analysts dread that such an instance, if not prevented, could easily overwhelm the already fragile healthcare architecture, force a lockdown measure and push the ailing economy back on its knees.

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Femi Olugbile, former commissioner for health, Lagos State, tells BusinessDay that the shortage of vaccines and the high rate of vaccine hesitancy among the population means the pandemic will linger longer than expected.

He suggests that the government can demonstrate its determination to fix the shortage by allotting more funds to increase the purchase of vaccines and push for the release of patents on vaccines to African countries with the technology to replicate the vaccines and ramp up supplies on the continent.

“There would probably never be herd immunity. I think we shouldn’t be wringing our hands, feeling impotent, and talking about how it would destroy our economy. I actually think we should brace ourselves and work on the low hanging fruits: reducing vaccine hesitancy and disinformation and use all the political leverage we can muster to collaborate with the South Africans and Kenyans to get a temporary waiver of the patents’ rights so that we can produce locally in Africa. Nigeria also might produce under the same arrangement or any other one,” Olugbile says.

If the Federal Government can take responsibility for Nigeria’s situation and halt being the subject of help, the country could move closer to its goals.

How risky is the shortage?

Without adequate vaccinations, infections will continue to grow and more cost will go out of government and private coffers into managing the disease.

Businesses might be unable to keep operations running normally, although the apparent low rates of infection seen in Nigeria when compared with some countries in Europe give a bit of assurance that the country might never really face a dire situation.

Ayodeji Ebo, head, retail investment at Chapel Hill Denham, predicts that the adoption of mandatory vaccination will increase among companies to curb infections and keep the work environment safe, but the country won’t reach a lockdown decision.

“I think that based on the peculiarity of our situation, we don’t expect to see a significant spread of the virus. And we don’t expect to see implications in terms of businesses shutting down which would impact the economy. There has been a lot of caution around prevention and a lot of companies will make vaccination mandatory,” he states.

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