NIGERIA has failed to make the World Health Organisation (WHO) shortlist of nations that qualify to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine because of the country’s inability to meet the standard requirement of being able to offer storage at the required -70 degrees Celsius.
With the vaccine being distributed worldwide, the Nigerian government had stated that it was expected to 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, according to Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s director of the African region, said only four African countries were shortlisted for the Pfizer vaccine out of the 13 that applied.
Dr Moeti 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 be able to store and distribute doses at minus 70 degrees Celsius.
“To access an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine, 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 ultra-cold chain needs of the vaccine.
“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 ports of entry to delivery as we can’t afford to waste a single dose.”
Professor Babatunde Salako, director-general of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, conformed that there is not enough space at the moment to store the Pfizer vaccines at that temperature. However, Dr Faisal Shuaib, the executive director of Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency, described the report as fake, saying Nigeria had the capacity to 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 rate of infection 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 while South Africa has already procured 1m doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, produced in India but has yet to begin distribution.
Nigeria has, however, received no Covid-19 vaccine even as its rate of infection has continued to surge. Dr Moeti said it was time for African countries to up their game in the rollout of vaccines.
She added that the initial phase of 90m doses of Covid-19 vaccines would support countries to immunise 3% of the African population most in need of protection, including health workers and other vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021. Dr Moeti said: “As production capacity increases and more vaccines become available, the aim is to vaccinate at least 20% of Africans by providing up to 600m doses by the end of 2021.”