As Nigeria enters second wave of COVID-19 infections, a researcher at the Department of Child Dental Health, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Prof. Morenike Ukpong-Folayan, says the country is keeping quiet while other African countries are planning how to pay for the COVID-19 vaccines.
Prof. Ukpong-Folayan noted that while other countries might effectively control and eliminate the pandemic, if Nigeria does not ensure access to the vaccine early, COVID-19 might become an endemic disease in the country.
According to her, vaccine is the way out of this pandemic as well as the weapon that can stop the transmission process.
The researcher raised the alarm during an exclusive interview with PUNCH HealthWise, adding that it is the role of the government and not that of donors or bilateral organisations to ensure that Nigeria has access to the COVID-19 vaccines.
The researcher said, “Nigeria is keeping quiet yet other African countries are planning about paying up.
“There are a number of vaccines being developed for COVID-19. The vaccine is very important. As you would have noticed, there is a second wave of new infections.
‘It is possible to have a third and fourth and multiple waves. This risk is high because of the large number of asymptomatic carriers. The only possible way to interrupt this is to have a vaccine.
“The first COVID-19 vaccine out for public use is the one developed by Pfizer. This is already being rolled out in the United Kingdom and to be rolled out shortly in the United States of America. High income countries have paid for the vaccines in advance and are getting their supplies.
“Sadly, the COVAX arrangement made for countries in Africa to have access to a vaccine does not have the Pfizer vaccine in its tool box.
“The COVAX arrangement that Nigeria signed up too, cannot deliver the Pfizer vaccine to Nigeria. A number of African countries are aware of this and are therefore sourcing vaccines for their countries.”
Prof. Ukpong-Folayan further explained, “These sourcing includes reaching out to countries like Canada that paid up and will receive vaccine supplies more than it needs for its country.
“One of the countries in Africa working for the good of its citizens is South Africa: it has sourced 22 million doses for 11 million citizens.
“We have absolutely no idea what the Nigeria government is doing to source for vaccines for Nigeria though we are aware through the media that it signed an agreement with COVAX.”
But the Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire, had on Wednesday during the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja, said efforts were ongoing to ensure the country receives some doses of the approved COVID-19 vaccines in January 2021.
Ehanire said the country had signed up with the World Health Organisation and Gavi for access to vaccines immediately they are available, though he did not indicate the quantity Nigeria plans to get at first instance.
“We signed up for advanced market participation in COVAX. So, if we will be able to get our own, I think it will be in January,” the minister had said.
The researcher went on, “Sadly, while other countries may effectively control and eliminate the disease, if Nigeria does not ensure access of the vaccine early, COVID-19 may then become an endemic disease in the country.
“This is a role the government needs to play. It is not the role of donors or bilateral organisations to address this huge national concern.
“Countries are planning and moving forward but our government has remained silent.”
Prof. Ukpong-Folayan also lamented the country’s lack of preparedness in the area of logistics to administer the vaccine to adults.
“But more importantly, if vaccine comes today and Pfizer donates it free to Nigeria where is the logistics to administer to adults?
“COVID-19 vaccine concern is not all about the vaccine itself, It has a lot to do with country preparedness. If the vaccine were made free and Pfizer donates 400million free doses for 200 million Nigerians today, the country will mess up the donation.
“There is no preparedness and this is 80 per cent of the issue not the vaccine. The vaccine is meant for adults not children so what is the plan to enable adults access the vaccines?
“Where will the access points be for adults? What is the supply chain logistics for this vaccine that needs a cold chain like no other vaccine has ever needed? What is the country’s consideration for allocation of a vaccine that will come in short supply at the initial phase?
“What is the plan for timely access to the vaccine by all who should be prioritised to access the vaccine?
“In effect, how is the government planning to make the vaccine accessible to the country? These are concrete plans that will take millions of dollar in investment.
“Sadly, there is no donor available to help this time. The country needs to help itself and access financial instruments made available for the continent through Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention arrangements.”
According to the Minister of Health, Nigeria may encounter a challenge if it opts for COVID-19 vaccines that require ultra-cold freezers for storage.
He said the country hardly has ultra-cold freezers even as the WHO Regional Office for Africa says the continent may experience challenge in the distribution of the vaccine in terms of storage capacity.
Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme Coordinator at WHOAFRO, Dr. Richard Mihigo had in a press conference on Thursday said, “As we know, the region may not have enough capacity to store the vaccine. So this (vaccine distribution strategy) should include the private sector, such as the food and beverage industries.
“The key areas that need attention are the logistics and supply chain and specifically the need to review the vaccine distribution strategy, mapping the points of storage and additional back-up storage facilities.”
WHO says US$6.8b is needed in 2021 to secure access to COVID19 vaccines for 92 low- and middle-income countries so they can get their vaccines at the same time as anyone else.
The world health body notes that lack of access to vaccines in COVID19 pandemic causes significant economic damage and puts decades of progress at risk.
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