The Federal Government has failed to secure doses of the limited Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines being expected to be delivered to African countries this month.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only four countries out of 13 African countries (Nigeria inclusive) that expressed interest and submitted proposals will be receiving the limited 320,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The four countries are – Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia.
The United Nations Agency, while urging the other countries not shortlisted for the vaccines to fine-tune their planning for covid-19 immunization campaigns, stressed that it cannot afford to waste a single dose of these vaccines.
The WHO cited current mortality rates, new cases and trends, and capacity to store the vaccine at – 70 degrees Celsius, as the basis for selecting recipient countries.
COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world, especially low and middle-income countries in Africa.
Speaking during a virtual briefing yesterday, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said: “And much-awaited news, the COVAX facility which is the vaccine components of the ACT Accelerator platform has informed African countries of the first allocations of the covid-19 vaccine.
“Nearly 90 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could start arriving on the continent later this month. This is subject to WHO listing the vaccine for emergency use. The review is ongoing, and its outcome is expected very soon.
“In addition around 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been allocated to four African countries: Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia.
“Deliveries are also expected later in February. To access an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine, countries were invited to submit proposals. 13 African countries expressed an interest in participating in this initiative, and their proposals were evaluated based on, among others current mortality rates, new cases and trends and capacity to store the vaccine at – 70 degrees Celsius.
“Africa has indeed watched other regions start covid-19 vaccination campaigns a little bit from the sidelines for too long. This planned rollout is a critical first step in ensuring that the continent gets equitable access to vaccines. This COVAX announcement by WHO, GAVI and CEPI allows countries to fine-tune their planning for covid-19 Immunization campaigns.
“So we urge, and are ready to support African nations to ramp up readiness and finalize their national vaccine deployment plans. Planning for the vaccination campaigns, including putting in place strategies to engage communities will be critical. We cannot afford to waste a single dose of these vaccines.”
The Executive Director/CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, had in January assured Nigerians that it is doing everything possible to ensure that the country secures 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from the COVAX facility.
He emphasized that the country has enough storage capacity to store the covid-19 vaccines at -70 degree Celsius, before they are deployed to states for vaccination.
In his words, “We have developed a comprehensive covid-19 vaccine deployment and vaccination plan. We have also developed an operational manual to rule out the vaccines when they come. We encourage Nigerians to get vaccinated when vaccines become accessible because the benefits of the vaccines far outweighs the potential side effects.
“I want to reiterate that the first set of vaccines expected in the country is the Pfizer BioNTech mRNA vaccine, and the equipment that is required to store them is the ultra-cold chain. Equipment for the storage of the vaccines are available at the National Strategic Cold Store of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in airport road, FCT.
“Those Ultra cold chain equipment are available, and we have over 2,100 litres capacity. Requirement for the 100,000 Pfizer vaccines that will be coming by the end of January or early February is 500 litres. So we have more than enough capacity for 100,000 doses, and in particular reference to those reports that claim that we are going to waste the 100,000 doses because we do not have any ultra-cold chain equipment.
“Pfizer has also informed us that the Pfizer covid-19 vaccines can be stored for 5 days at + 2 to 8 degrees outside of the ultra-cold chain which is suitable especially at lower levels. This means that the ultra-cold chain is only required at the national level and six zonal stores where the vaccines can be stored for longer periods. The vaccines will then be transported to the lower levels using dry ice in insulated thermal containers when they are ready to be deployed.
“I want to emphasise that the Presidential Task Force, the Federal Ministry of Health does not intend to invest too heavily in the ultra-cold chain equipment because of the logistical challenges. We already have thousands of refrigerators and freezers that we use for our routine immunisation vaccines which are available all over Nigeria. So we will be looking to prioritise those vaccines that can be stored between + 2 and + 8 degrees Celsius because it just makes sense.”