By Chioma Obinna
Nigerian scientists on Sunday slammed the Federal Government over the exclusion of Nigeria from the 1st batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine sharing formula.
According to the scientists, the unfortunate exclusion would widen the gap of distrust between Nigerians, the government and those managing the national COVID-19 response for the country.
They maintained that while Nigeria was not disqualified by the World Health Organisation, WHO, the country but was not qualified to access the COVAX facility based on criteria applied to all countries.
On Friday last week, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, announced that the first batch of 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines would be received by Cape Verde, Tunisia, Rwanda and South Africa.
The scientists who spoke in separate chats with Vanguard remarked that whether disqualified or not, since it was excluded from the selection, Nigeria had lost the much anticipated initial 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that it was promised earlier.
In his submission, a renowned Medical Laboratory Scientist and a Public Health Analyst, Dr Casmier Ifeanyi said the eventual exclusion of Nigeria was not good for the pandemic response as many, of Nigerians had anticipated the arrival of the vaccine since January which was later moved to February and was finally put off at weekend.
“This development leaves much to be desired on the part of the populace because you are widening the gap of distrust between the citizens and those who govern them, and those who manage the COVID-19 response.
“The point is that the reasons initially were that we were not prepared and we did not meet the criteria for Pfizer- BioNTech Cold chain but the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency came up to say that they have the Cold chain facility.
“In my own opinion, we really do not have enough cold chain infrastructures for a vaccine that requires minus 70 long term storage. No matter how we politically saver with our answers, the reality is that we live in Nigeria and we know our infrastructural deficit and we must not continue to play the ostrich.”
Pointing out that Nigeria with all its resources should tow the path of Egypt to protect Nigerians from COVID-19 infections said countries like Egypt have gone ahead to procure AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and rolled out vaccination of their populace without waiting for WHO.
“With all the huge resources Nigeria is endowed with, the government should be able to procure vaccines without the WHO or COVAX for Nigerians.”
He, however, commended the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Development Agency, NPHCDA, and the World Health Organisation representative for securing the allocation of the 16 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to Nigeria.
Ifeanyi urged the Nigerian government to do everything possible to keep faith with Nigerians on the new expectation and for the delivery of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by 2nd of March 2021.
He said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is a more friendly vaccine that fits into the current cold chain capacity that Nigeria has, adding that it was not a major departure from what the country is using for its routine immunisation currently.
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“Nigeria, over time has established a cold chain system that supports the storage, the transport and administration vaccines that require 2 to 8 degrees centigrade. We have the capacity for that and it is not in doubt. So choosing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine gives us something that is more amenable to our temperate nature and I expect that that is what we should do.
“Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are of similar origin and similar genetic origin that is the RNA, whereas the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is of a non-viral replicate origin.”
On his own part, in a COVAX vaccine distribution forecast, renowned virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said Nigeria fell short of the WHO’s criteria for COVX facility distribution.
Tomori noted in the forecast that Nigeria was not disqualified by the WHO, but that the country simply did not qualify.
According to him, as of February 5, 2021, Nigeria’s number of cases per million was lower than for each of the four countries – Cape Verde, Tunisia, Rwanda and South Africa – that were selected to receive the Pfizer vaccines even as Nigeria had the lowest case fatality rate, apart from Cape Verde.
Further, he argued that all the four countries selected most likely had the facility to store and utilise Pfizer vaccines.
Further giving reasons why Nigeria did not qualify, Tomori said: “As of 15 December 2020, Nigeria was the only country that had neither signed commitment agreements to the COVAX facility nor submitted non-binding confirmations of intent to participate in the COVAX facility.
“It is obvious from the above, that nobody disqualified Nigeria, Nigeria disqualified herself,” he affirmed.