Despite the Federal Government’s assurance of capability to effectively procure the much-needed COVID-19 vaccine and to even administer it free on Nigerians, the senate and a cross section of Nigerians think otherwise amid the N400bn planned to be spent.
The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, on Tuesday, said the COVID-19 vaccine, when procured by the Federal Government, would be administered on Nigerians free of charge.
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Dr. Aliyu said the government had adequate plan on delivering and administering the vaccine and assured that Nigerians would be freely vaccinated.
He said, “Yesterday the president gave the PTF the mandate to proceed with preparations with regards to the vaccine.
“The president has also given us a marching order that the COVID-19 vaccine be made available in Nigeria.
“The COVID-19 vaccine will be available in Nigeria through the GAVI arrangement.
“We already have the assurance that we will have 20 per cent of our population accommodated by GAVI; which is about 40 million Nigerians. They won’t need to pay for that (vaccine).”
Admitting that Nigerians may be reluctant to receive shots of the vaccine, Dr. Aliyu said effort was being made to sensitise them and deliver the vaccine across the country.
He said, “We have continued to work with the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).
“NPHCDA has a lot of experience in delivering vaccines across the country. They were involved with the polio vaccination.
“Even at the moment, they are responsible for the delivery in the growth of children’s vaccination across the country. So they have a lot of experience.
“The biggest challenge we will have with the vaccine is not going to be logistics.
“The biggest challenge will be the public acceptance of the safety of the vaccine and allowing themselves to be vaccinated.
The challenge will be very similar to the one we have with polio.”
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, earlier said the Federal Government was substantially ready for a successful COVID-19 vaccination to save lives.
Dr. Ehanire said this on Monday in Abuja while briefing the senate leadership on government’s plans to procure COVID-19 vaccine worth N400bn.
The minister noted that the country which had successfully fought polio would use the same storage facilities (cold chains) to store the vaccine and added that about N400bn would be required to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 211 million population at $8 per person.
According to him, N156bn will be needed in 2021 and N200bn in 2022.
However, at the meeting which was also attended by his counterpart in the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. Zainab Ahmed, and heads of relevant government agencies, the senators doubted the ability of the Federal Government to effectively store and distribute the vaccine.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and his colleagues said it was a good bargain to spend N400bn to protect Nigerians from the deadly virus and that the National Assembly was ready to support the funding demand.
Lawan, however, insisted that the Ministry of Health must convince the parliament that it had adequate facilities and manpower to manage the vaccine.
Lawan said, “Essentially, we want you to tell us how we are going to be able to provide the vaccine in such a manner that it is not only acquired, but remains efficacious and effective; that it is not invalidated because of any challenge in the area of storage or during transportation.
“And we know ours is a very difficult and sometimes impossible environment.
“We need to have the strategy of how we intend to do it so that we don’t run into any chaos. If we don’t have any structure on ground, its better the vaccine is delayed. Put the structures (storage facilities) in place and then vaccinate our people than bring in the vaccine, get them contaminated and kill our people.”
Responding, Dr. Ehanire allayed the fear of the lawmakers, assuring that the government was substantially ready for a successful COVID-19 vaccination.
The minister explained that the government was in high level talks with multinational manufacturers and had trained staff, as well as put the right cooling infrastructure in place to store the vaccine.
On her part, the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said her agency, as the regulator of drugs, would ensure vaccines acquired by the government were safe.
Still not satisfied with the presentations of the officials from the Ministry of Health, Lawan said, “I have not been convinced with your presentation that we are ready to bring in the vaccine.
“You have to do much more to convince me that we are ready.
“This is a matter of life and death. I am not only a doubting Thomas; I am also a doubting Ahmad.”
He added that the health minister should provide the list and locations of all the storage facilities for inspection.
Also, the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, “I’m a doubting Omo-Agege also,” and expressed worry that the government so far had made preparations for only four cold chains for the vaccine in Abuja, Kano, Enugu and Lagos and asked why the entire South South was not included in the plan.
Omo-Agege further said he was worried that vaccines may lose efficacy on transit to the South South, and therefore charged NAFDAC to ensure that citizens, especially from the zone, did not end up being inoculated with bad vaccines that might do more harm than good.
Other senators also expressed doubt on the assurance that facilities had been put in place to ensure adequate storage protection for the vaccine.
The lawmakers, therefore, urged the health officials to provide proof so that Nigerians would embrace the vaccine.
The health minister, however, insisted that Nigeria, which successfully fought polio, would use the same storage facilities (cold chains) to store the COVID-19 vaccine.
He said, “Without having storage facilities, all the immunisations going on would not have been possible because that is what we are using already. The only thing is to augment them.
“Without these infrastructures, it would not have been possible to be polio-free and to do routine immunisation. The baseline is present, we just want to build upon it for this particular challenge.”
He, therefore, urged the senate to have confidence in the government’s plan for the COVID-19 vaccine campaign.
Meanwhile, a virologist and public health expert, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, while speaking on the procurement of the vaccine, said the vaccine must be free.
Prof. Tomori said now was the time for government to provide information to citizens, but added that he could bet the government did not have answers yet.
Also, the Chairman of the Medical Sub-Committee of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee on COVID-19, Dr. Ejike Orji, said the best way to go through it was to give it to people free when it came, adding that this was because it was a public health issue, and that for people to gain confidence in it, it must be given free of charge.
Dr. Ejike further said the best thing was for Nigeria to produce a home-made vaccine that could help in the prevention of COVID-19 while noting that the country had the capability.
He said, “If we remember, Nigeria produced the small pox vaccine in Vom, Plateau State, to help eradicate small pox across the world. We are still capable of doing same.
We understand Nigeria’s government has released money for some research into producing vaccine…we don’t know how far they have gone with that, but as we are looking forward to bringing in, we should look forward to home solution too.”
He explained that COVID-19 was one pandemic, and that pandemics and epidemics would still come in future and thus advised that the nation must be ready to produce vaccines to tackle them and that there was no doubt that Nigeria needed capacity to cater for them.
He emphasised that, “We must also remember that we are still battling with Lassa fever and Ebola and there is no end to human nature and the ways these viruses come.
“And again, the way humans have dealt with nature through deforestation and the way we are now romancing animals make these viruses to spread from animals to man and man to man.”
Dr. Ejike also said the biggest vaccine for now in Nigeria was the use of laid down protocols of handwashing, use of facemask, social distancing and proper hygiene.
He said, “Vaccine gives almost 95 per cent protection. But Nigeria has to do comprehensive and massive engagement at the community level in sensitising people on how to protect themselves from being infected; we are not doing enough.”
However, Equity International Initiative (Ell) cautioned the government against forceful use of the COVID-19 vaccine on Nigerians.
The Director of EII, Miss Helen Okon, told newsmen in Abuja that the government should not sign any agreement with pharmaceutical companies that had indemnity clause in favour of the company.
She said, “The next question that must be asked is the safety of this hurriedly put together vaccine. The UK that was the first to administer the vaccine has advised citizens with allergies not to take the vaccine.
“And Nigeria has signed an agreement with a pharmaceutical company that has an indemnity clause in favour of the company. Nigeria needs to be very sure that any vaccine that comes into the country is safe and should be optional. Remember the Pfizer meningitis vaccine debacle in Kano in 1996.”