AS Nigeria commences a nationwide rollout of the about four million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, transparency should be the guiding principle. It is cheering that the country appears equipped for the vaccine exercise following assurances of receivers’ safety by AstraZeneca, the World Health Organisation and NAFDAC, despite the suspension of rollouts by some European countries over reported blood clots complaints by some of those who received jabs. As The Times newspaper reported, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Portugal announced temporary pauses pending an investigation by the European Medicines Agency, which is due to report by Thursday.
But Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, says after exhaustive tests, it has proved that the “vaccine is safe and works extremely well, and now, only six months later, it is being made in multiple places from India to the US, as well as Britain, and it is being used around the world.” Nigeria received the 3.94 million doses on March 9 from COVAX facility, an initiative co-led by the Vaccine Alliance, GAVI and the WHO. Priority administration of the doses is critical to achieving focused inoculation; hence, frontline health workers, the elderly and others deserve the earliest jabs.
Conscious efforts are requisite to shield the exercise from negative socio-political influence and networks of dubious citizens. COVID-19 is not discriminatory, thus all qualified categories must receive vaccination without let or hindrance. The doses are neither for the elite nor influential political supporters alone, but for all eligible Nigerians.
Governors and leaders’ exemplary steps in taking jabs to inspire confidence in qualified citizens for the COVID-19 vaccine are inspiring. But states must take further measures in actively coordinating and monitoring the exercise, including forcefully frustrating the antics of shady persons keen on profiting from the vaccine rollout.
Given the country’s irksome history of sleaze, greedy individuals would likely explore existing means to corner doses for selfish ends. This must not be allowed. In China and South Africa, distributors of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines tried their luck to reap from the pandemic to the detriment of the people, but they were promptly arrested. This should not be too hard for Nigeria to achieve too.
The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control should collaborate with the states to facilitate the smooth take-off and completion of the vaccination. The country has to purposely build on the gains achieved with the lockdowns and enforced compliance with coronavirus control protocols by effectively managing the vaccination programme. Moreover, vaccine accountability officers have a crucial task to resolutely flood states and local government areas to monitor the management of the rollout. They should demand strict adherence to standard dosage, proper storage and equitable administration.
Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind as the rest of the world puts in enough work to inoculate their citizens against the dreaded pandemic. Herd immunity requires 80 per cent of the population to be inoculated. As Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Deputy Director for Health in Africa and its Africa COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Solomon Zewdu, noted, the job would not be done until the vaccine got into people’s arms. Zewdu stated, “Even some of the world’s wealthiest nations, with access to substantially more doses and with expensive health systems, have struggled with their vaccination campaigns, and the job could be exponentially harder in countries with far fewer doses and public health resources.”
Civil society groups should not go to sleep at this decisive time. They owe Nigerians the duty to continually demand full compliance with the vaccine regulations and galvanise stakeholders to jointly tackle the global challenge headlong.
With 160,657 COVID-19 cases, 2,013 deaths and 145,399 recoveries as of Monday, according to statistics from the website of Worldometer, Nigeria needs to fully utilise vaccination to halt the increase as the WHO also recommends inoculation as the best solution. It noted that herd immunity – the level at which a population can be sheltered from a virus when a threshold of immunisation is reached — is achieved by protecting people from the virus and not by exposing them to it. The organisation had abundantly noted that never in the history of public health had herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic, noting that doing such was scientifically and ethically problematic.
It is essential for Nigeria to scientifically preserve the vaccine, being globally known that vaccines stored at wrong temperature would get spoilt. Notwithstanding that it has been established by health experts, including the WHO’s African Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti, that the AstraZeneca vaccine has modest cold-chain requirements, it will be catastrophic for the country to allow the spoilage of the vaccine. Ghana is the first country to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Africa after meeting the readiness criteria and immediately began mass vaccination of people in 43 epicentre-districts in the Greater Accra, Ashanti and Central regions.
Nigeria can copy the mass vaccination model by focusing largely more on areas with wide community-transmission to prevent and contain the virus’ spread into other areas. Experts have recommended the temperature-controlled storage for AstraZeneca which vaccination providers should strictly adhere to and this should guide preservation and administration of the vaccine in the states. Additionally, states need to sustain electricity in hospitals and clinics to keep the vaccine properly refrigerated. The cold-chain process should be intentionally strengthened across the vaccine-receiver states to make the exercise a huge success. The NCDC should also keep fully abreast of global trends to monitor and ensure the safety of the vaccine.
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