Nigeria needs policy on COVID-19 vaccine distribution -Researcher

Angela Onwuzoo

A researcher and Director at the Centre for Malaria and Other Tropical Diseases Care, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Kwara State, Prof. Olugbenga Mokuolu, says the Federal Government is yet to come up with a policy on the distribution and prioritisation of the vaccines.

According to him, there must be a policy and strategy in place to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccines when they arrive in the country.

As Nigeria awaits the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the month, indications have emerged that the Federal Government is yet to come up with a policy on the distribution of the vaccines.

Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency Dr. Faisal Shuaib, had, at a briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Tuesday, said Nigeria would take delivery of 100,000 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech approved COVID-19 vaccines by the end of January.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise during an exclusive interview, Mokuolu said, “What we know so far is that countries have adopted strategies of the vaccine administration.

“It does make sense to have these strategies. It is important because you cannot vaccinate everybody at the same time.

“Some countries prioritise the vaccination of the vulnerable groups and health workers.

“So, what we need to know in Nigeria, which I haven’t heard, is the government’s position on how it seeks to prioritise giving the vaccines.

“They are not going to gather people on the streets and start giving vaccines. But I don’t know, as of now, government’s decision or policy on how they hope to approach their own vaccine program.”

Prof. Mokuolu noted that any action the government has to take must be strategic, saying “We have limited number of vaccines and different levels of risks of COVID-19.”

According to him, since the country is not going to be having the vaccine in sufficient quantities, the government has to prioritise its distribution.

NPHCDA boss had said the country is planning to start administering the COVID-19 vaccine on Nigerians before the end of March.

According to him, Nigeria expects to receive free 42 million doses of vaccines in the second phase through the COVAX facility being administered by 10 Global Vaccines Alliance, GAVI.

Also, the Federal Government says it has opened talks with the Peoples Republic of China to have access to COVID-19 vaccines for Nigeria.

Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffery Onyeama, had stated this on Tuesday in Abuja while briefing newsmen shortly after a bilateral meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi.

Mokuolu, who is a Professor of Paediatrics, Department of Paediatrics, College of Health Sciences at the university, urged the government to make its COVID-19 vaccine program known to people and consider vulnerable areas.

He explained, “If the vaccines come into the country, since they are not sufficient for now, we then need to look at the most vulnerable areas.

“For instance, state by state distribution and which ever state that the vaccine gets to, there has to be another level of prioritisation of the most high risk population.

“You cannot bring the vaccines and all you hear is that they have gone to a particular region of the country.

“There should be some form of equity in the distribution of the vaccines.

“So, the government should get the policy prepared before the arrival of the vaccines.

“If the vaccines come and all you hear is that people in power have cornered the doses that came in and they have all immunised themselves, it will not project a good image of the vaccine.”

The researcher noted, “So, there has to be engagement, prioritization, good communication and the use of positive role modeling for proper utilisation of the vaccines.”

“The vaccine before arrival has generated a lot of controversy. The people need facts and their fears addressed.

“We need to separate the fallacy from the facts. There are non-medical fears about the vaccine, government should not sweep it under the carpet.”

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