Nigeria is set to receive the largest allocation of 16 million doses out of the 88 million AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine doses allocated to African countries in the first phase by the end of February instead of the initial 100,000 Pfizer doses earlier expected, the World Health Organisation (WHO) hinted on Saturday.
The WHO country representative in Nigeria, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulomboo, disclosed this at an emergency press briefing on Saturday in Abuja while debunking reports that Nigeria had been disqualified from accessing COVID-19 vaccines.
He said the demand for the initial allocation of 1.2 million Pfizer doses was exceptionally high, adding that COVAX received interests from 72 countries from which 51 countries were considered by the review committee as “ready”.
Mulomboo, who said 18 countries were finally chosen to receive the initial Pfizer doses, explained that “On the Africa continent, as of the 18th January deadline, COVAX received 13 submissions and a multi-agency committee evaluated the proposals of which nine were recommended as ready to deploy the Pfizer vaccines including Nigeria.
“Unfortunately, it was not feasible to provide each of these 51 countries with Pfizer doses, due to a number of factors including the limited capacity for Pfizer to handle many countries at once. Therefore, spreading the limited doses across all the 51 countries deemed ‘ready’ could have not achieved the intended public health benefit.
“After epidemiological data was taken into account, the decision was taken to proportionally balance the number of self-financing and AMC participants, as well as participants across all six WHO regions.”
WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, had said during a press briefing on Thursday that to access an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccines, countries were invited to submit proposals, adding that 13 African countries submitted proposals and were evaluated by a multi-agency committee based on current mortality rates, new cases and trends and the capacity to handle the ultra-cold chain needs of the vaccine.
Mulomboo said currently, all countries on the continent are expected to start accessing the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines by the end of February.
He, however, noted that the vaccines were under review by the WHO for emergency use listing, adding that the outcome is expected soon.
“Of the 88 million AstraZeneca doses allocated to African countries for the first phase, Nigeria has received by far the largest allocation, with 16 million doses.
“In addition to the Astra Zeneca doses, there is an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccines available through COVAX”, he said.
Explaining why Nigeria was not among the few African countries to receive the Pfizer vaccines, the executive director of National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, said there was a number of factors that were considered in allocating the small quantity of the 320,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines to Covax countries.
These factors, according to him, include the mortality rates from COVID-19, the number of new cases, the trend in the number of cases, the population of countries and the availability of the appropriate cold chain equipment.
“It is clear that countries such as South Africa which received the Pfizer allocation have the new strain of the COVID-19 virus, has the highest mortality rate and is struggling to contain transmission.
“Furthermore, giving smaller countries such as Cape Verde and Rwanda a few doses of the Pfizer vaccines would have a larger public health impact considering their population sizes.
“100,000 doses to Nigeria, we have all agreed would have been a drop in the ocean. So, it is a welcome development that we are receiving 16m doses of the Astrazeneca vaccines to replace the Pfizer vaccines in the same month of February.
“The 16m doses will invariably help us reach more of our population and is suited to our existing cold chain system.
“Many of you were with us at the National Strategic Cold Store to physically see the ultra-cold chain equipment we have. That visit was conducted in the spirit of transparency and accountability on the part of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF) and Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH)”, he said.
Shuaib further said that the ultra-cold chain equipment would have been able to store over 400,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccines if they were brought to Nigeria.
“So we are ready for any type of vaccines allocated to us”, he added.
He reiterated the Federal Government’s commitment to acquiring COVID-19 vaccines that are safe, effective and available for deployment.
“This emergency briefing became necessary in order to ensure that just a few of us do not bring our country to ridicule”, he said.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has lauded the establishment of Coronavirus African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to accelerate the financing and procurement of Coronavirus vaccines for the continent.
The President stated this on Saturday in his message to the 34th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU), a virtual event, which he joined from the State House in Abuja.
Buhari also expressed Nigeria’s readiness to work with global and African partners to achieve speedy development and manufacturing of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine for all Africans.
He also described as a welcomed development the establishment of the Coronavirus Response Special Fund to mitigate the socio-economic and humanitarian impacts of the pandemic in Africa.
The president, whose speech was read by the minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyema, also expressed Nigeria’s eagerness to work with co-member states of the union to go beyond just finding solution to the immediate emergency and focus resources on promoting human health and general wellness.
President Buhari, who is the ECOWAS Champion on the fight against COVID-19, informed the session that Nigeria had provided logistics support including critical COVID-19 medical supplies distributed to other ECOWAS member states.
He said, “Nigeria welcomes today’s report from my brother Cyril Ramaphosa, including the endorsement of the attached decisions. In view of the results on ground today, Africa must be commended even as we begin the implementation of a mitigation strategy.
“The imperative for the immunisation of 60 percent of Africans for safe and secure vaccine cannot be overemphasized.
“Nigeria therefore welcomes the decision to establish the Coronavirus African Vaccine Acquisition Capacity to accelerate the financing and procurement of coronavirus vaccines for the continent.
“We continue to appreciate the remarkable progress by the team with respect to securing a provisional 270 million coronavirus vaccines doses for Africa along with Africa Medical Supply platform and other laudable initiatives already in place.
“Excellencies, in my capacity as ECOWAS Champion on Coronavirus, Nigeria has provided logistics support, including the freight in of critical Covid-19 medical supplies distributed to other ECOWAS member states.
“At the national level and in the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria, we prioritize the vulnerable, including women, children, older persons and the unemployed in our efforts to provide medical and social assistance to mitigate the socio-economic effects of the disease.
“I will like to stress that Nigeria is committed to working with other member states, in the spirit of regional cooperation and solidarity, to promote human health and general wellbeing.
“We will continue to partner with the World Health Organization (WHO), the African Center for Disease Control and West African Health Organization as well as other countries to ensure accelerated development and manufacturing as well as unhindered supply of safe and effective coronavirus vaccines to all Africans.”
He congratulated the outgoing Chairman of the AU, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, for addressing key issues for Africa on Coronavirus pandemic, said the virus had created additional burden to the continent’s public health system.
“I will like at the outset to express our profound gratitude to my brother, President Cyril Ramaphosa, for the outstanding manner in which he has steered the affairs of our union during the last one year.
“I will also like to congratulate my brother, President Felix Shisekedi on his assumption of our union. We wish you a happy and successful tenure and assure you of Nigeria’s unflinchingly support.
“I will like in particular to congratulate the Chairperson of the union, President Cyril Ramaphosa, for making a good use of the platform of the bureau to address key issues for Africa on the Coronavirus pandemic”, he said.
In a related development, the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) has expressed readiness to begin the development and production of local vaccines to tackle Coronavirus.
Addressing journalists at the end of an emergency meetings of the National Executive Council (NEC), on Saturday in Abuja, the national president of AMLSN, Prof. James Damen, said members of the association had the capacity to deliver on local vaccines.
While commending efforts of the federal government in sourcing and strengthening local vaccine production, he advised that incoming foreign vaccines must be further subjected to validation by relevant indigenous bodies to ensure its safety and effectiveness in Nigeria.
He said: “Imported vaccines must be such that will be easily adaptable in our clime in view of our peculiar weather. The said vaccines must also be subjected to in-country validation procedures to ascertain their safety and effectiveness in line with international best practices.
“NEC wishes to assure Nigerians that as medical laboratory scientists who are skilled in knowledge and techniques of vaccine production, we are ready to start the development and production of indigenous vaccines against SARS-COV-2 in collaboration with other stakeholders and indeed all other infectious diseases. All we need is adequate funding and necessary laboratory infrastructure.
“NEC commends the federal government for the passion demonstrated so far in up-scaling laboratory infrastructure during this COVID-19 era as seen with the establishment of over 70 molecular biology laboratories in Nigeria. The federal government can take it a step further by re-activating human vaccine production laboratories in Nigeria as the world is constantly being challenged by emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.”