Anxiety and doubts among Nigerians on whether the country could secure the COVID-19 vaccines was put to rest on Tuesday following the arrival of the first batch of Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX facility.
Just as the consignment arrived, the Federal Government disclosed that special centres would be opened for top government functionaries to take the jabs.
Nigeria is the third West African country to receive COVID-19 vaccine from COVAX after Ghana and Ivory Coast. Emirates Boeing 777-300ER aircraft carrying 3.94 million doses of the vaccine arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, at about 11.45 a.m. and was received by the Chairman of Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha. They handed over the consignment to the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who presented to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for sampling to ensure they were in good condition, safe and effective for Nigerians.
The arrival of the vaccine will enable the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to commence vaccination of Nigerians in priority groups, starting with frontline healthcare workers after it has been cleared by NAFDAC.
The Executive Director of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, had disclosed that NAFDAC team would analyse the vaccines today (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday). After NAFDAC’s clearance, the PTF, FMOH, NPHCDA will be at the treatment centre of the National Hospital on Friday, where the first site will be set up to commence the vaccination of frontline health workers and support staff.
“These members of staff would also be electronically registered in the COVID-19 vaccine database and would receive their vaccination card, which has a QR code that can be verified worldwide, while key strategic leaders will receive the first dose of the vaccine on Saturday, March 6.
While receiving the consignment, Boss Mustapha said the arrival of the Astra-Zeneca vaccines marks a significant milestone in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
The SGF observed that COVID-19 had claimed over 2.5 million lives worldwide but the development of vaccines and accelerated process for emergency authorisation had brought hope to humanity all over the world.
“I therefore urge all Nigerians to continue to comply with the non-pharmaceutical measures, even as we roll out the vaccines administration plan, which is expected to reach 70 per cent of our population between 2021 and 2022. Under the circumstances, it must continue to be NPIs + Vaccines.”
The PTF chairman stated that although the consignment was 3.94m doses of the expected 16m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, government was grateful to the coalition that made it possible.
According to him, the administration of the vaccines will be strategically planned to meet peculiar needs, cover heroic healthcare workers who have sacrificed their all, including lives, while caring for others.
He stated that the PTF, working with the FMoH/NPHCDA, would ensure transparency, efficiency and assured Nigerians that their turns for receiving the jab will come.
“Ahead of the full roll out in the coming days, we urge all stakeholders (traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil society groups, respectable Nigerians, the media, etc) to carry the message on the significance of being vaccinated to the grassroots and all segments of the society. This is a fight for everyone”, he added.
Ehanire described the arrival of the vaccines as a great milestone in the journey towards eliminating COVID-19 from the country. He explained that the consignment would first be examined by NAFDAC before it would be handed over to the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) for distribution to all the zones and states of the Federation for application.
In her remarks, the Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Christiana Adeyeye, said the agency had been working round the clock to make sure the vaccines were well tested and that what came from India was of good quality.
Development partners such as United States Embassy, UNICEF, WHO, Indian Embassy, EU, among others, congratulated Nigerians for receiving the largest consignment to be shipped by COVAX to the West African region.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, noted that vaccines were critical to the battle against COVID-19, adding that the vaccines had undergone rigorous regulatory processes at global and country level and had been deemed safe and effective.
He said: “It is heart-warming to witness this epoch-making event and WHO wishes to congratulate the government of Nigeria for its participation in the global vaccine collaboration efforts and its commitment to protecting Nigerians against this pandemic.
“The COVAX facility is expected to deliver around 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the African Region in the first quarter of 2021 and has committed to providing up to 600 million doses to the region by end-2021 to cover 20 per cent of the population.”
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria Country Representative, Peter Hawkins, observed that with more than 150,000 Nigerians infected with the virus and over 1,800 lives lost, the path to recovery for the people of Nigeria could finally begin.