Nigeria has extended its search for Covid-19 vaccines to Russia and India in a bid to get enough supplies to meet its target of vaccinating 40% of its population by the end of 2021.
The federal government said it has obtained vaccine samples from Russia and India for testing by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
The latest move came in the wake of a disclosure by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that 75 health workers have tested positive for the virus in the last one week.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, told his audience at a media briefing by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Coovid-19 on Tuesday in Abuja that the federal government is strictly monitoring development in the international scene, especially on the procurement of vaccines for the country.
However, he expressed concern over the report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the scramble for the limited quantities of vaccines by powerful nations.
Although the minister did not disclose the names of the vaccines from both Russia and India, Sputnik V is the first registered vaccine against Covid-19 in Russia while India last month formally approved the emergency use of two vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin.
Covishield, a brand of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is being manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
Covaxin, the local vaccine, however, was approved despite the absence of data on how efficient it can be. It has yet to go through large-scale trials.
Ehanire explained that Nigeria cannot be left out of the global scramble for the vaccines as the federal government owes it a duty to protect the people against the pandemic.
He said: “We have been keeping a strict eye on the vaccines’ scene and those who follow international news would have heard of the scramble for vaccines, which has pitted some countries against each other in Europe, as wealthy high-income countries have prepaid to allocate vaccines to them.
A spokesperson for the World Health Organisation estimated that 95% of vaccines manufactured globally so far have gone to only 10 rich and powerful countries.
According to him, Nigeria is joining the WHO in urging for global equity in the allocation of vaccines, since the pandemic is a threat to mankind and not only to any country alone.
Ehanire said the Director-General of the WHO, Mr. Tedros Adhanom, has repeatedly stated that no country is safe till all countries are safe.
The minister added that the date of the first arrival of vaccines in Nigeria has kept changing because the decision lies with the manufacturers who already have heavy commitments.
According to him, Nigeria has been advised to expect the first batch of vaccines from COVAX from February.
He said the government will continue to review plans to ensure a smooth rollout of vaccines.
He stated that the federal government will need the support of state governments on remuneration of vaccinators.
“The NAFDAC is the approving agency for all vaccines that will be used in Nigeria and this approval is required and must be sought before importation. Till date, only two companies have submitted the samples of their vaccines to NAFDAC, where the evaluation is ongoing.
“Vaccines without NAFDAC certification are illegal and may be dangerous in the light of fake vaccines, said to be already in circulation in parts of Europe,” he said.
On the status of vaccine procurement drive, Ehanire said Nigeria has been allocated over 41 million doses by the African Union’s African Vaccines Acquisition Task Team (AVATT).
The country is also expecting 15 million of about 42 million doses from COVAX.
“Altogether, it will give us coverage for over 50% of our target for 2021, if we can access all doses promised,” he said.
Ehanire said the Ministry of Health and its agencies will be engaging with various segments of society in the coming weeks to sensitise them on Infection Prevention and Control and vaccines.
The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, in his update, lamented that the country has been witnessing increasing casualties from the pandemic since the beginning of the new year.
He said 75 health workers had tested positive for the virus in the last week, a situation he described as tragic.
Ihekweazu advised all health workers to strictly adhere to the health protocols to avoid being victims of the pandemic, adding that the lives of other Nigerians who might be infected by diseases depends to a large extent on their ability to come to their rescue.