NIGERIA’S ongoing vaccination plan is facing derailment after India suspended the exports of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from the Serum Institute in what is believed to be a response to growing domestic shortages.
Early this month, Nigeria received its first batch of 4m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine under the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Assess Facility (Covax) programme aimed at catering for the needs of poor countries. Manufactured and delivered from India, the 4m dose batch was the first of several that are supposed to total 16m doses.
Like most African nations, Nigeria is not involved in the production of any of the major coronavirus vaccines and neither AstraZeneca or Pfizer have a manufacturing facility on the continent. Being wholly dependent in imports, Nigeria, which a massive population of 200m, is particularly vulnerable to suppliers like India pulling the plug.
It is not known how long the Indian suspension will last but health watchers say the development is likely to delay the delivery of Nigeria’s second batch expected around the end of March and early April. This suspension will also delay supplies to other African and low and middle-income countries that are relying on India, which supplies the vaccine under licence from AstraZeneca of the UK.
With shortages becoming an issue globally, the European Union (EU) is considering giving member states greater scope to block vaccines exports outside the bloc. This would apply to all vaccines including the AstraZeneca product on which the EU had originally been relying to meet a goal of inoculating 70% of its adult population.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is seen as crucial in tackling the pandemic as it is cheaper and easier to transport than rival shots. Already, the EU has accused AstraZeneca of over-selling its vaccine and unfairly favouring Britain, a charge denied by the company.
Under the Covax sharing scheme backed by the World Health Organisation, Nigeria was allocated 16m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Nigeria is expected to receive additional 42m vaccine doses through the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team before the end of the year.
Covax is expected to deliver around 90m doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Africa in the first quarter of 2021 and has committed to provide 600m doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20% of the population. A recent survey by the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, has shown that 72% of Nigerians are willing to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
This research which covered 19 countries, also revealed that two-thirds of Africans want to be vaccinated. In four countries, the number of willing recipients were higher that Nigeria as in Morocco, the figure was 91%, Egypt 78% and Mozambique 75%.