The Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, says Nigeria now has the ultra-cold chain to store vaccines expected in the country.
He revealed that the Federal Government has invested in cold chain equipment and that the focus is to get vaccines that the storage facility can effectively manage.
Shuaib revealed this in a series of tweets via his Twitter handle @drfaisalshuaib on Friday morning while giving an update on vaccines expected in the country by the end of the month.
The NPHCDA boss, once again, assured Nigerians about the effectiveness of the expected vaccines, noting that the presidency is confident and ready to participate in vaccination once the exercise kicks off.
He further assured that NPHCDA is working closely with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control as a regulatory agency, irrespective of other foreign certification of the vaccine.
“There must be due diligence. When the vaccines come, NAFDAC has to go through the assessment and processes to certify it good enough for Nigerians,” he added.
“Our focus is to get vaccines that our cold chain can manage. We have the ultra-cold chain to keep them potent.
“100,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are expected in the country by the end of January 2021.
“We are prioritising our health workers. When the vaccine arrives, 100,000 will go to the front line workers.
“We have invested in cold chain equipment, and we are aware the COVAX Facility will bring additional vaccines that will work more in our environment.
“There is a comprehensive deployment plan. We are identifying priorities especially those that work directly with patients and we have a list of these individuals that work across the country.”
“We are also generating a more comprehensive database of such workers.
“There’s no doubt that the vaccine is efficacious. I have no doubt that the President has confidence in the vaccines and will take it in the event of its availability.
“We are working with a regulatory agency — NAFDAC, irrespective of other foreign certification of the vaccine. There must be due diligence.
“When the vaccines come, NAFDAC has to go through the assessment and processes to certify it good enough for Nigerians.
“NAFDAC is consistent. The leadership of NAFDAC is very competent. They will work with WHO to certify the vaccine. We have competent Nigerians that can do the job.
“For us in the health sector, we must put in the effort and push the drive for vaccines…we must also listen to people and empathise with their concerns with continuous sensitization.”
Recall that the NPHCDA boss, during a press conference by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja on Tuesday, said 100,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine would be received at the end of this month.
He also said Nigeria would secure free delivery of 42 million doses of vaccines, which would be a combination of all the available and approved vaccines currently in the market.
According to him, the 42 million doses of the vaccines will only cover 20 per cent of the country’s population, which the National Population Commission recently put at 206 million.
Shuiab also said enough space was available at the NCDC facilities to effectively store the vaccines on arrival.
He, however, noted that because ultra-cool chain equipment was expensive, the government decided to go for vaccines that the country’s cool chain equipment can readily store.
A professor of virology, Oyewale Tomori, in an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday, while highlighting the cost of available vaccines, advised the Federal Government not to procure vaccines that the country lacked the facility to store.
He said procuring a vaccine that would be difficult to store in Nigeria would be like adding to the problem of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
According to Tomori, “There are three or four different types of vaccines at the moment; there is the one from Pfizer that must be stored at -70°C; Moderna vaccine must be stored at -20°C and there are others that can be stored at fridge temperature.”
The virologist further expressed concerns, adding, “My worry is on the type of vaccine we get. If we get the type that needs storage at below freezing -70 or -80 degrees centigrade, we will have a humongous problem.
“You know our problem with the cold chain in this country. Even at ordinary fridge temperature of four degrees is poor.
“You also have to consider the poor location of our cold rooms and the epileptic electricity supply.
“So, if you have problems with an ordinary fridge, how much more with storage at minus 70 degrees centigrade?
“You will need dry ice in large quantities. Yet, we know it is difficult to secure ordinary wet ice block in this country, not to talk of dry ice.”
Recall that, last December, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, revealed that Nigeria might encounter a challenge if it opts for COVID-19 vaccines that require ultra-cold freezers for storage.
Ehanire said this while addressing State House correspondents after the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
He noted the country hardly has ultra-cold freezers, stressing that the Federal Government might have to raise money to procure them if it settles for vaccines that need such temperature by January 2021.
The health minister explained that the need to decide which of the vaccines currently available would serve Nigeria’s purpose became imperative due to the different temperatures required to store them effectively.
He said, “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.
“But there are two types of vaccines. There are those that have to be in ultra-deep freezers – the MRA type of vaccines. That is the freezers that must give you -80 per cent type of degree.
“There is another type that has to be in the deep freezer of -20 degree, which is a deep freezer; and there is another type that can be in -2 degree refrigerators. This is the regular refrigerator.
“The one that will be in regular refrigerators is easy. We have them here.
“The one that will be in -20 refrigerators is also going to be possible because we also have the freezers here, but the one that will be in ultra-cold freezers.
“We hardly have ultra-cold freezers in this country and to receive and store vaccines in those ultra-cold freezers will require that you purchase the ultra-cold freezers,” he said.
Similarly, the World Health Organisation, said experts have advised that both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccines, which contain mRNA and have been adopted by several countries, must be stored in frigid conditions.
Speaking about the proper storage of the vaccines, a vaccine researcher and chair of the board of the International Society for Vaccines, Margaret Liu, also said Moderna’s vaccine can be stored long-term only at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, while Pfizer/BioNTech’s needs long-term storage at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Messenger RNA is constantly under threat of being destroyed by other molecules in the environment.
“To prevent any damage, vaccine producers not only make chemical changes to the synthetic mRNA and wrap it in a protective layer but also store it at low temperatures to trap chemical reactions in slow-motion,” she explained.
An Associate Professor in the Microbiology and Immunology Department, Tulane University School of Medicine, Lisa Morici, advised that health authorities must ensure that the vaccines given to people have been stored appropriately because, by their very nature, mRNA molecules are unstable and, human cells could accumulate harmful levels of the proteins they help create unless they are properly handled.
“mRNA rapidly degrades. There are also enzymes in the environment and all around us that break down mRNA.
“Vaccine-makers also coat the mRNA in lipid nanoparticles. These tiny bubbles of fat help carry the mRNA to our cells and offer a degree of protection against enzymes that could destroy the fragile genetic materials,” she told Smithsonian online
In the same vein, the Pan American Health Organisation warned that the two approved COVID-19 vaccines require seriously low temperatures to remain viable.
“If these temperatures are not maintained through every stage of the cold chain, certain elements could degrade, leaving the vaccine useless.
“Only at the final stage of the journey, when they’re thawed to perform immunisations, can vaccines come out of that deep freeze,” PAHO advised.
According to experts, the Moderna vaccine can be stored up to 30 days in normal refrigerator conditions, while the Pfizer vaccine, up to five days.
They also revealed that both have a cold-storage shelf life of up to six months, and so doses don’t need to be used immediately, as long as they are stored properly.
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