The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said Nigeria is among countries pre-qualified to access Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility.
The WHO said contrary to reports about the exclusion of Nigeria from vaccine deployment, the country was among the nine countries recommended as ready to deploy the Pfizer vaccine. It also disclosed that all countries on the continent were expected to start accessing the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines by the end of February.
The clarification came as the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) on Saturday expressed readiness to begin the development and production of vaccines to tackle coronavirus locally.
Nigeria’s reported disqualification from the deployment of COVAX Vaccine had sparked public concern, necessitating a statement from WHO to put the record straight.
Addressing a joint press conference by WHO and Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Country Representative of the world health body, Dr. Walter Molumbo, debunked reports that Nigeria and some other countries on the continent had been disqualified from assessing the vaccine due to unpreparedness.
Molumbo said, “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 Astra Zeneca doses allocated to African countries for the first phase, Nigeria has received by far the largest allocation, with 16 million doses, Molumbo said.
WHO said the vaccine was under review for Emergency Use Listing, adding that the outcome was expected soon.
Molumbo explained that in addition to the Astra Zeneca doses, there was an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine available through COVAX. He said the demand for the initial allocation of 1.2 million Pfizer doses was exceptionally high.
According to him, “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 9 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 achieved the intended public health benefit.”
Molumbo further explained that 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 6 WHO regions.”
WHO was reported to have announced the commencement of shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to African countries, including Cape Verde, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tunisia. The world body said about 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received WHO emergency use, would be deployed to the four countries this month.
Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said the clarification by WHO had become necessary to ensure Nigeria was not brought to ridicule.
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.”
He said countries, such as South Africa, which received the Pfizer allocation, had a new strain of the Covid-19 virus and the highest mortality rates and was struggling to contain its transmission. Shuaib explained that giving smaller countries such as Cape Verde and Rwanda few doses of the Pfizer vaccine would have a larger public health implication considering their population size.
He stated, “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 16 million doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine to replace the Pfizer vaccine in the same month of February. The 16 million doses will invariably help us reach more of our population and is suited to our existing cold chain system.”
Meanwhile, AMLSN has expressed readiness to begin the development and production of vaccines to tackle coronavirus.
Addressing newsmen at the end of an emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on Saturday in Abuja, National President of AMLSN, Professor James Damen, said members of the group had the capacity to deliver on local vaccines.
While commending the efforts of the federal government in sourcing and strengthening local vaccine production, he advised that incoming foreign vaccines must be subjected to further validation by relevant indigenous bodies to ensure their safety and effectiveness in Nigeria.
Damen stated, “Imported vaccines must be such that will be easily adaptable in our clime in view of our peculiar weather. The said vaccine(s) must also be subjected to in-country validation procedures to ascertain their safety and effectiveness in line with international best practices.
“NEC wishes to assure Nigerians that as Medical Laboratory Scientists, who are skilled in knowledge and techniques of vaccine(s) production, we are ready to start the development and production of indigenous vaccines against SARS-COV-2 in collaboration with other stakeholders and, indeed, all other infectious diseases. All we need is adequate funding and necessary laboratory infrastructure.”
Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo