Logistics gaps, security issues, vaccination apathy top list
FG awaits additional 42m doses from Africa Union
By Sola Ogundipe & Gabriel Olawale
With the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign weekend in Nigeria, the plan to vaccinate over 70 percent of the population between 2020 and 2021 began in earnest.
The roll-out began at the National Hospital Abuja following a positive outcome of the final assessment by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC.
Last Tuesday, Nigeria received 3.92 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, being the first shipment of 16 million doses allocated to the country through the COVAX Facility to vaccinate 20 percent of the population.
Phases of the roll-out of the vaccines
In February, the Federal government had explained that the vaccine doses will be rolled out in four phases.
The first-phase recipients are the front-line health workers because of their high risk of exposure.
Also prioritised are President Mohammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osibajo, the Chief of Staff to the President, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation/Chairman Presidential Task Force and members of the PTF, among other Presidential aides.
In the second phase, persons aged 50 years and above will be targetted, while, in the third phase, individuals aged 18 to 49 that have comorbidities will be attended to.
In the fourth and final phase, the remaining eligible members of the population, who are the individuals aged 18 to 49 without medical challenges.
The nationwide vaccine rollout is set to commence 12th of March. Each beneficiary is expected to obtain two doses, spaced 3-4 weeks apart, to obtain full immunity against the coronavirus.
On 1st of March, the federal government opened an online registration portal on the website of the NPHCDA on its website http://nphcda.gov.ng
Known as the Electronic Management of Immunisation Data, EMID, Registration Portal, the platform captures data and schedules persons for COVID 19 vaccination.
The T.E.A.C.H strategy
The National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA launched the registration portal in line with what it calls the T.E.A.C.H. Strategy.
According to the Executive Director of the NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib, the strategy is an indigenous approach to COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria.
Essentially, T.E.A.C.H stands for T – Traditional Vaccination Campaign Approach; E – Electronic Self-Registration by Eligible Nigerians; A – Assisted Electronic Registration; C – Concomitant Registration & Vaccination, and H – House-to-House Electronic Registration.
Vaccination anxiety and apathy
Hurdles that the Federal Government and partners must surmount to ensure a hitch-free vaccination exercise. Primary among these is the growing apathy to the vaccination process among Nigerians.
Even before the vaccine roll-out, a number of persons expressed apathy to the vaccines. Many have actually vowed not to register of make themselves available for vaccination an average of seven out of 10 people said they would decline to accept the vaccines. In addition, is the general disbelief that COVID-19 exists.
Challenges that may affect the successful vaccination of Nigerians, against COVID-19, have been identified.
Criticisms about government’s readiness and commitment towards ensuring the timely vaccination of Nigerians have been circulating even before the vaccines arrived.
While the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has been in charge of the national response, the coordination of the vaccination is the sole role of the NPHCDA.
Health watchers continue to express worry over the lack of restrictions around the vaccination dates. They pointed to the lack of verification of the claims on the registration site as one of the challenges.
They also point to logistics challenges that may affect the successful vaccination process.
There are fears that Nigeria may face security and logistics challenges especially, transportation of vaccines by road to states where there are no airports. Health watchers have cited the need to properly certify the vaccines for safety, good storage system, public enlightenment, availability, and accessibility, as well as equity in the distribution as hurdles the country must cross.
Maintenance of safety precautions
The World Health Organisation, WHO says the COVID-19 crisis cannot end until every country inoculates at least 60-70 percent of their population.
WHO has warned that even after vaccination, ther possibility of infection exists, and so the need to maintain the Non-Pharmaceutical Instructions must be in place.
Calling on theNational Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, to activate its pharmacovigilance unit, a renowned Medical Laboratory Scientist/Public Health Analyst, Dr. Casmir Ifeanyi, warned that Nigeria could experience increased vaccine apathy if handlers of the exercise failed to build enough confidence in the people.
Ifeanyi, however, said the vaccination process will also be an opportunity to generate indigenous literature about how Nigerians would react to the vaccine because of our genetic diversity.
To checkmate vaccine apathy, he charged NAFDAC and NPHCDA to commence full public education and enlightenment so as to facilitate maximum use of the hard-earned vaccine doses available to Nigeria.
On his own part, the National Secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, Pharm. Olugbenga Falabi says every Nigerian must be vaccinated.
He urged that Nigerians should realise that everyone needs to be vaccinated while calling on the government to create more awareness about the vaccines as well as put the correct information in the public space as well as educate Nigerians about the process of vaccination.
He said the registration portal is specifically to track health workers and to be able to schedule how and when they want to be vaccinated.
“Don’t forget that Nigeria has always been among the countries that are running immunisation programmes and that means that we already have a plan. With or without cell phones, we have already had a platform in which we do what we need to do manually. But what is being done now is to leverage the electronic advantage that we now have, it is not as if the manual is not going to be used.
On his own part, the President of Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Prof Innocent Ujah, warned that the vaccines must not be diverted for group or personal usage.
Delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines
COVAX is a public-private health partnership led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, CEPI, alongside the World Health Organisation.
They invested up to $1.2 billion in COVID-19 vaccine candidates and manufacturing scale-up to form a buyers club to place large vaccine orders to assist 92 poor and middle-income countries get free doses of vaccines.
According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, Nigeria was considered among the first countries to receive the doses from COVAX, because of the satisfactory level of preparedness put in place by the government.
Nigeria is expecting an additional 42 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson vaccines through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team of the African Union.