COVID-19: Vaccine delivery not in our hands ― Health minister

• Says South African virus, not in Nigeria

Despite initially hoping, to take delivery of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of February, the federal government now says that it is no longer sure when exactly they will arrive in the country.

Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who fielded questions from correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the presidential villa, Abuja on Wednesday, said the delivery of the vaccines is not in the hands of the Nigerian government.

He, however, reiterated that Nigeria is expecting the COVID-19 vaccines from three donor sources, which should satisfy the need of the country without having to procure.

Ehanire affirmed that the country is expecting its supplies from COVAX facilitated by the World Health Organization (WHO); the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) set up by the African Union.

This is apart from individuals, government and organizations who are on their own making vaccine donations to the country.

Ehanire added: “Now, you can see that all of these are coming from various sources but put together, they almost satisfy our needs so that we don’t really need to go procure.

“But the question is, when are they delivering that is not in our hands. It is the hand of the person who is bringing it to us.

“We have been told to open an account with Afreximbank under the African Union, we have done that already successfully because we are going to pay for that part of the vaccine. The COVAX vaccine is free, at no cost to us, it is made from donations.

“We want to immunise about 60 to 70 per cent of our population. If COVAX immunises 20, then we have about 40 to 50 to immunise within the next two years.

“So, we have to pay for that minus any donations that we get like the MTN donation. For example, all those ones reduce the quantities that we have to purchase or any other that in future are given to us free of charge.

“Now, the COVAX will start delivering to African countries before the end of February. That’s what they told us. But they didn’t tell us which country is first or which is second, which is third.

“So, COVAX begins to deliver before the end of February. And we hope that before the end of this month, it would be our turn or latest by the beginning of next month.

“As for us here, we are ready to use vaccination once it arrives, we met all the conditions. They have asked us to sign an indemnification form, we have done that. Indemnification means that you do not hold us responsible for anything that happens from using this vaccine.

“That’s a standard process. We’ve signed that indemnification and so we are waiting for the vaccines to arrive anytime.

“I don’t think that they will arrive in all African countries at the same time. They arrive one by one stage by stage or the order in which they arrive is determined by COVAX, who is the entity deleting this vaccine.

“Now the largest number of vaccines we are getting is AstraZeneca in Africa, and this AstraZeneca is made under the licence. It’s a UK vaccine but is manufactured under licence by the Serum Institute of India. So, the Serum Institute of India is donating all these vaccines.”

On why Nigeria is receiving the AstraZeneca vaccines whose rollout has been discontinued by South Africa because it was found to be less effective, the minister said that WHO has said the country can make use of it.

He added that the South African variant of the virus is not in Nigeria, noting therefore that the AstraZeneca vaccine can provide immunity to citizens.

He stated: “South Africa discovered that these vaccines had some weaknesses against their own variant, the South African virus variant. It’s a peculiar variant by itself and the South Africans say that it didn’t seem to be very effective against their own variant.

“Now, we turn to the World Health Organisation and say what do we do? They say, well if you don’t have that variant, don’t worry, use it. In Nigeria, we do not have the South African variant. So, use it, it will be effective.

“So, therefore, we are using it because if we do not have the South African virus variant here in our country. And if you start the vaccination on time and get Nigerians immunised, then they are immune and even if the variant comes in, later on, it probably will not have any effect.

“So, it is not so effective in South Africa. It doesn’t mean it’s harmful. What it means is that it may not that effective because that variant is not here with us.”

Ehanire said his minister presented two memos to FEC in relation to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) on procurement to upgrade and scale up the capacity of the agency to be able to detect fake and substandard drugs and other materials.

He said the first memo was for 40 scanner devices to be able to recognise fake and substandard drugs brought either across the border or found within the country.

The minister explained: “These are like rapid diagnostic kits tests, which also relieve the laboratories because normally you have to take samples to the laboratories, it takes a long time, several days and lead to some delays. So, having a thorough scan allows us to have faster access.

“The second memo is about laboratory strengthening, improving and upgrading all of our six laboratories for NAFDAC for testing materials that are brought into the country.

“Both of these contribute strongly to what we call the benchmarks for NAFDAC to be able to allow the manufacture of vaccines in Nigeria. It needs what we call the maturity level three of the World Health Organisation, to be able to start manufacturing. We have ambitions to start manufacturing vaccines and the federal government owns 49per cent of shares in the company called BioVaccines that hopes to use technology imported from outside to make vaccines and getting this benchmark maturity level three is a condition for it.

“So, both of these memos, the upscaling of laboratory capacity and the ability to speed up and make diagnostics more accurate in respective of fake and substandard drugs, will help us to push to apply for maturity level three for the health sector. That’s it.”

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