The federal government has raised the alarm that Nigeria’s vaccination programme against COVID-19 pandemic may hit a halt.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, gave the hint on Thursday while speaking during the weekly ministerial press briefing, organised by the Presidential Communications Team in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
According to him, virtually all the initial plans to vaccinate Nigerians were threatened by non-availability of products from expected sources.
He, however, explained that expected supplies may not come soon.
Ehanire disclosed that the previously planned timelines in the delivery of vaccines for the remaining part of the vaccination programme had changed as many of the producer countries, like India, are currently facing their own pandemic crisis and had suspended supplies outside their shores.
He said, “The access to vaccine has been very limited because there are countries that give us the vaccines, but who, at the moment, have only promised to deliver many months from now, they want to take care of their own needs first, their own citizens and their immediate environment.
“The over 4 million doses we have received so far have all come from India and as you all know, India is facing serious challenges right now with COVID infection, massive COVID infection, which is necessitating their turning their vaccine production to themselves and to their neighbourhood and they have told us that they can’t supply us yet until a bit later in the year.
“Well, let me tell you that there are several countries facing that problem, in that if you do not manufacture, you’re not producing and those who produce don’t give you, and even if you have paid, they will tell you to wait, we’ll give you later, we don’t have vaccine. Essentially, you are in a situation where you’ll have to start looking for other answers.”
He, however, explained that the federal government was not folding its arms and resigning to fate, but had been working on exploring other avenues of getting vaccines for Nigerians, itemizing a number of measure being taken until normal supplies are restored.
“What we are doing now is approaching countries, which is called bilateral. Bilateral is that you approach certain countries that have surplus, or that have declared they have surplus and say, will you share with us. So that’s what we’re about to start doing.
“Some countries have announced publicly that they will share some of their vaccines. Right now, they are doing donations to make money available for COVAX, which is very good, but the problem is that all that money will not immediately translate into vaccines because you won’t get it until months later.
“So we’re looking for those who want to share. There’s one country that announced that they won’t use AstraZeneca anymore, so we are going to contact that country and say if you’re not going to use it, send it to us, we are using it and it’s working well for us. That’s one example.
“Another example, I think, is the UK and France who said that they want to donate a certain percentage of their surplus vaccines, maybe they can also share with us. Those are things we want to do.
“We have already mentioned it to some of those countries that we are ready, we want to write to them and say, share your vaccines directly with us. Some want to give it to COVAX, who will share to everybody. So those are the measures we’re trying to take to bridge the gap, until regular supply begins.”
Asked to comment on the concern that the AstraZeneca product might be ineffective against the strain of the virus, which had been causing much death in India, he said there would be no need for panic on that.
Answering with an assumption, he opined that India, which is the main supplier of AstraZeneca, withheld supply because it decided to use its product to address the crisis at home, adding that if the product was ineffective against the strain, India would have rather shipped it out in rejection.
“The AstraZeneca we got came from India and in their own outbreak, which they are having now, they are having a serious outbreak, they’ve told us they will not supply us vaccine anymore, they will use it for their own citizens. It’s that same vaccine, which means it must be effective against Indian variant, which you’re asking about, otherwise they themselves will not withhold it for themselves. So it’s effective.
“The only variant where there’s a question about the effectiveness of AstraZeneca is the so-called South African variant, for which countries are now using another vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, which we ourselves are also expecting here, perhaps in August happily.
“So yes, that vaccine is effective against the India variant, otherwise they themselves will not use it anymore, they will be giving it away”, he said.
The minister also said the federal government wants to get the actual price of COVID vaccine before submitting a supplementary budget to the national assembly.
According to him, the actual price for the COVID-19 vaccine is still in rough stages.
There are different prices of the vaccines, and we don’t really know exactly the one we’re getting. And we also know that the ones we’re getting from COVAX are at no cost to us.
So what we’re doing is that the additional ones that we’re going to get will take care of 50 million Nigerians, COVAX will take care of 20 million, they are even offering to take care of more than that, maybe up to 30 million,” Ehanire said.
“The prices vary. Some vaccines are in the neighbourhood of $20 or $30, and others are $5 or $6. So to really make a budget, we are working on rough sketch, some money have been earmarked. But Mr. President has also announced that there will be a supplementary budget. But we want to get a clearer picture first before you actually submit a budget.
“So, we only have rough figures, and as soon as those figures are there, we can continue. We are also looking for perhaps, as I said, if we have to make the payments, we can find some money to do that. But when that budget time comes, we need some precise information.”