The Director-General, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research Prof. Babatunde Salako says unless the Federal Government find a way to raise the needed funds to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, Nigerians may have to pay to get vaccinated.
Recall that Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Wednesday reassured Nigeria and other African countries of access to COVID-19 vaccines from the end of January through the first quarter of 2021.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs quoted Okonjo-Iweala as disclosing this after a closed-door meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in Abuja.
“As long as one person has it in the world, no one is safe. And that is why poorer countries, lower-middle-income countries like Nigeria, need to get it as quickly as possible,” she was quoted as saying.
However, speaking with PUNCH HealthWise during the week-long Train-the-Trainers Circum Vent workshop held at the institute, the professor of medicine and nephrology disclosed that Nigerians must understand that vaccines production and procurement don’t come easily.
He maintained that being a new vaccine that is still in high demand globally, COVID-19 vaccine may, at best, be subsidised but not free.
“I may not be too sure. But being a new vaccine that is in high demand globally, it is going to cost money. I think the Federal Government will either have to seek donors or supporters that can help with counterpart funding and things like that to reduce the cost. We may be talking about subsidy much more than talk of a free vaccine,” he said.
Salako was, however, optimistic that a category of the population may perhaps be given a waiver to access free vaccine.
He emphasized that health workers treating COVID-19 patients, children and old people may fall into such category.
“Vaccines production doesn’t come up easily until a number of years. This one (Pfizer) is very fast because of the nature of morbidity and deaths that we are seeing. The urgency that we require is that we needed a cure.
“Even as we speak the WHO which is like the world referee on such things have not come to say we have a (COVID-19) vaccine that people can use yet. It is the nation who developed them that are registering, promoting and using them. Ordinarily, it is not something that we see within one year. As I said, the WHO is still studying them. Already, there are reports that fake vaccines are around now,” he said.
However, a renowned Professor of virology and former Vice-Chancellor of the Redeemer’s University Nigeria, Oyewale Tomori thinks it would be odd for the Federal Government to charge its citizens for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Ideally for a disease reaching outbreak or pandemic proportion, and for which you need to vaccinate a large number of your population, it will not make sense to charge for the vaccination.
“Nigeria does not charge for delivering childhood routine vaccinations, nor is there a charge for vaccination against diseases targeted for eradication or elimination such as polio or yellow fever. I expect the same will go for COVID-19,” he said.
He further expressed worry that while other countries have gone ahead and allocated money to procure vaccines long before any vaccine was available, African countries and leaders are just waking up and scrambling in a disorderly manner for leftovers.
Tomori noted that the vaccine may eventually reach Nigeria long after developed countries with wise leaders must have ensured that none of their citizens is left unvaccinated.
“Soon vaccine salesmen and peddlers will invade Africa capital cities with vaccine vials for unscrupulous leaders and dealers. We do not know how much Nigeria has spent on COVID-19. But the recent splashing of N1 billion to States for testing, tracing and treatment was a mistake. Perhaps we should have pooled all those money for vaccines procurement,” he said.
Recall that on October 27, Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello declared that the state government rejected N1.1 billion support fund from the World Bank because of his belief that COVID-19 is a ‘glorified malaria’.
The governor also described the World Bank’s Memorandum of Understanding for the fund as ‘a one-sided agreement’.
However, he admitted that the state government received N1 billion from the Federal Government to tackle the effects of COVID-19 in his state.
He stated this while fielding questions on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme on Tuesday which was monitored by The PUNCH.
Reacting to Okonjo-Iweala’s reassurance that Nigeria and other African countries would access COVID-19 vaccines from the end of January through the first quarter of 2021.
“If indeed we get the vaccine by January, it would possibly be a New Year’s miracle. I am sure the National Primary Health Care Development Agency that has years of experience in conducting routine immunisation and mass campaigns is ready to distribute the vaccines.
“My worry is on the type of vaccine we get. If we get the type that needs storage at below freezing minus 70 or minus 80 degrees centigrade. We will have a humongous problem. You know our problem with the cold chain. Even at ordinary fridge temperature of four degrees, poor cold room location and electricity, you will need dry ice in large quantities,” he bemoaned
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