Africa’s largest economy, which recorded its first case of COVID-19 in February 2020, began witnessing the second wave of the deadly pandemic in November. As at January 31, 2021, the country had recorded 131,242 positive cases with 1,586 deaths.
Medical experts say vaccination is the ultimate exit from the pandemic.
Faisal Shuaib, director-general, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), said over 70 percent of Nigerians are expected to be vaccinated before the country could think of exiting the pandemic.
But hopes that the vaccines, estimated to cost over N400 billion, would arrive the country in January 2021 as promised by the Nigerian authorities have been dashed even after it was shifted to early February. As at press time, no concrete information has been received. But the government insists it would vaccinate 40 percent of the country’s over 200 million population by the end of this year.
But as Nigeria drags, over 50 other countries across Europe, America and Africa have vaccinated some percentage of their citizens against the pandemic.
According to a tracker developed by “OurWorldInData”, a research partnership between the University of Oxford and the British non-profit Global Change Data Lab, three countries – Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain – have vaccinated a higher proportion of their populations than the rest of the world.
As at February 2, 2021, Israel has vaccinated 3.24 million (37 percent) of its population, UAE 3.19m (14.21 percent), Bahrain 10.23m, United States 26.44m (7.31 percent), Malta 5.55 percent, Denmark 3.27 percent, Romania 610,383 (3.17 percent), Iceland 3.14 percent, Ireland 3.05 percent, Spain 1.25m (2.68 percent), Poland 998,587 (2.64 percent), Germany 1.98m (2.36 percent), and France 1.54m (2.27 percent).
Others are Italy 1.35m (2.24 percent), Argentina 281,577 (0.62 percent), Mexico 614,733 (0.48 percent), Indonesia 596,260 (0.22 percent), and United Kingdom 9.65m.
In Africa, some countries have already started to vaccinate their citizens against the virus. On Monday, South Africa received the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines. The 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses produced by the Serum Institute of India are expected to be used to inoculate frontline healthcare workers starting mid-February.
Also Morocco’s Ministry of Health announced that more than 126,000 people received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines on Sunday, January 31. Egypt on Sunday received the first batch of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine consisting of 50,000 doses.
Several reasons have been adduced for Nigeria’s delay. These range from poor logistics to lack of funds, religious beliefs, trust deficit on the part of the government officials, poor communications strategy and absence of stakeholder buy-in, all of which have hindered the procurement, distribution and vaccination of the citizens.
James Umunna, a medical expert, told BusinessDay that the cost and storage of the vaccine pose a challenge to the country.
Also Peter Obi, a former Anambra State governor and renowned economist, told Arise Television in a programme monitored in Abuja on Tuesday, February 2, that N150 billion would be enough for the vaccines as against the estimate of N400 billion.
But although the vaccines are yet to arrive in Nigeria, there is already wide vaccine hesitancy. The apathy toward the vaccine is largely fuelled by mistrust for government, efficacy and safety concerns, myths, prevailing disbelief in the existence of the virus as well as religious beliefs.
A survey by SBM Intelligence, Nigeria’s geopolitical intelligence platform, shows that 60 percent of Nigerians are sceptical or not interested in the vaccines.
Also, while some Nigerians say they do not feel threatened by the virus and do not need any vaccine, others are convinced by the rumour making the rounds that the vaccine will depopulate Africa.
But these are not without consequences. According to Umunna, Nigeria would not only exit the pandemic late when other countries have moved on, but its health sector and economy would continue to suffer.
“It’s a miracle of modern medicine that scientists were able to develop multiple successful vaccines against Covid-19, a disease that wasn’t even on their radar a year ago. But so far, the global effort to roll out these vaccines and distribute them to vulnerable people is off to a slow start, Nigeria not being an exception,” Umunna said.
“To bring this pandemic to an end, a large share of the world needs to be immune to the virus. The safest way to achieve this is with a vaccine. Vaccines are a technology that humanity has often relied on in the past to bring down the death toll of infectious diseases,” he said.