WHO Disqualifies Nigeria From Global Vaccine Bid

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WHO Disqualifies Nigeria From Global Vaccine Bid
Obiajulu Joel Nwolu

Nigeria’s bid to acquire COVID-19 vaccine has suffered a setback as the World Health Organisation-led COVAX global initiative has failed to shortlist the country for the Pfizer vaccines over its inability to meet the standard requirement of storing the vaccines at the required -70 degrees Celsius.

The Nigerian government had expressed optimism t would receive 100,000 doses through the COVAX initiative, which was set up to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level.

However, the Director, WHO, African Region, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, while speaking during a virtual press conference which Saturday PUNCH attended said only four African countries were shortlisted for the Pfizer vaccine out of the 13 that applied.

According to Moeti, WHO could not risk the Pfizer vaccines being wasted.

She said, “Around 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been allocated to four African countries – Cape Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia. This vaccine has received WHO Emergency Use Listing but requires countries to store and distribute doses at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

“To access an initial limited Pfizer vaccine volume, countries were invited to submit proposals. Thirteen African countries submitted proposals and were evaluated by a multi-agency committee based on current mortality rates, new cases and trends, and the capacity to handle the vaccine’s ultra-cold chain needs.

“This announcement allows countries to fine-tune their planning for COVID-19 immunisation campaigns. We urge African nations to ramp up readiness and finalise their national vaccine deployment plans. Regulatory processes, cold chain systems and distribution plans need to be in place to ensure vaccines are safely expedited from entry ports to delivery. We can’t afford to waste a single dose.”

Prof Babatunde Salako, the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research had said that there was not enough space at the moment to store the Pfizer vaccines at that temperature.

The report was, however, countered by the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Faisal Shuaib, who described the report as fake, saying Nigeria could store the vaccines and had taken journalists on a tour of its facility in Abuja.

Nigeria was expected to be on the list of African countries to receive the first set of Pfizer vaccines because of its infection rate, which is now the sixth-highest on the continent.

Only South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia have higher infection rates than Nigeria.

But Morocco and Egypt have already independently obtained vaccines and begun distribution. In contrast, South Africa, which has the highest burden of the disease in Africa, has already procured one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, produced in India but has yet to begin distribution.

In contrast, Nigeria is yet to receive any COVID-19 vaccine even as its rate of infection has continued to spike.

However, the WHO regional director said countries that failed to make the Pfizer list could get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine later in the month, although the health organisation has not yet endorsed it.

Reports say the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does not need to be stored in a cold facility.

Moeti said, “Nearly 90 million of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could start arriving on the continent later this month. This is subject to the WHO listing the vaccine for emergency use. The review is ongoing and its outcome is expected very soon.”

This post was written by Obiajulu Joel Nwolu.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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