COVID-19: Despite govt claims, experts say Nigeria not ready for vaccine distribution

Despite Nigerian authorities’ claims of expecting to receive in January one of the vaccines developed globally for COVID-19, evidence on the ground at the country’s National Strategic Cold Store suggest an exaggeration of the claims.

Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s Health Minister, while responding to questions from journalists after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja, last Wednesday, 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 several global health experts and bodies told PREMIUM TIMES it is “almost impossible” for Nigeria to start a vaccine campaign in January.

Distribution campaigns across Africa are not likely to begin until April, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated. Even then, fewer doses will be sent to African countries than are being shipped to the United States and Europe.

“It will be extremely terrible to see,” said John Nkengasong, the Africa CDC director.

The African continent is “far from ready” to roll out what will be its largest-ever immunisation drive, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said in late November.

Even the United Kingdom, which became the first country to begin the process of vaccinating its citizens with the new BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on December 8, can only start a full-fledged campaign at least by December 29 when the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will meet and (is expected to) approve the vaccine.

Depending on COVAX

Most African countries, including Nigeria, are banking on benefitting from the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Assess Facility, or Covax, the World Health Organization-backed programme, which was set-up to divide a billion doses across 92 low- and middle-income countries next year.

“We are looking at the end of the first quarter of next year or the beginning of the second quarter” to approve a shot for use in Nigeria, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control’s Director-General, Mojisola Adeyeye, said last Wednesday.