…Says latest 16m doses allocation of AstraZeneca type cancels initial promise of 100,000 doses
By Sola Ogundipe, Chioma Obinna & Joseph Erunke
THE World Health Organisation, WHO, has confirmed that Nigeria will receive 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccines out of the 88 million doses allocated to Africa by COVAX, even as it explained the rationale behind the exemption of Nigeria from the initial COVAX’s Pfizer vaccines allocation to African non-self-financing countries.
The World Health Agency also dismissed media reports that it has disqualified Nigeria from accessing COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility.
The WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulomboo, who spoke at a joint press conference with the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib, said WHO was supporting all countries to access vaccines as quickly as possible.
Reacting to the purported disqualification of Nigeria from accessing COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, the WHO Representative stated: “WHO has not disqualified any country in Africa from accessing COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, but rather is supporting all countries to access vaccines as quickly as possible.
“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.
“Currently, all countries on the continent are expected to start accessing the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines by the end of February. The vaccine is under review by WHO for Emergency Use Listing and the outcome is expected soon.”
According to him, the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is still under review for Emergency Use Listing and the outcome is expected soon probably within a few days.
Throwing light into why Nigeria was exempted from the Pfizer vaccines through COVAX, he said it was largely due to supply.
According to Kazadi Mulomboo, there was an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine available through COVAX and the demand for the initial allocation of 1.2 million Pfizer doses was exceptionally high.
“COVAX received interest from 72 countries around the world, of which 51 countries were considered by the review committee as ‘ready’. Nigeria was among these countries and 18 countries in total were finally chosen to receive initial Pfizer doses.
“On the Africa continent, as of the 18 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 vaccine 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 achieve 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.
“The COVAX vaccines were never to cover only one country or Nigeria alone. We will continue to get evidence for more candidate vaccines and there will be more available for countries to access.
Speaking, the Executive Director of National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Faisal Shuaib said: “As clearly stated by the WHO Regional Director, there are a number of factors that were considered in allocating the small quantity of the 320,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to Covax countries.
“These 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 rates and is struggling to contain transmission.
“Furthermore, giving smaller countries such as Cape Verde and Rwanda few doses of the Pfizer vaccine would have a larger public health impact considering their population size. 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 vaccine to replace the Pfizer vaccine 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.”
Continuing, he added that the country has procured Ultra Cold Chain equipment that would be able to store over 400,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine if they were brought to Nigeria. “So we are ready for any type of vaccine that is allocated to us.”
He assured Nigerians that the Federal Government was determined and committed to acquiring the COVID-19 vaccines that are safe, effective and available for deployment.
“The PTF on COVID-19 will continue to provide credible and up to date information on our journey towards controlling the spread of COVID19 using the non-pharmaceutical interventions and the vaccines when they become available.”
With over 137,000 cases of COVID-19, Nigeria has the sixth highest cases in African. Only South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia have higher cases than Nigeria.
While South Africa, which has the highest rates in the continent has already received one million doses of the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccines, Nigeria is yet to receive any of the approved vaccines.