SHORTAGE OF CORONAVIRUS VACCINES HIT NIGERIA AS FEARS OF HOARDING, SALE OF FAKE PRODUCTS GROW

Shortage of COVID-19 vaccines has raised the stakes for persons who desperately want it, particularly for travel purposes. This has raised fears of fakery by elements in China as well as hoarding and extortion by local officials.

 

The latest reports from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) indicate that just over 718,412 Nigerians and foreigners alike have received the first dose of COVID-19-vaccine. This figure is largely insignificant, compared to the challenge of quickly vaccinating 70 per cent of the 200-million strong population to achieve herd immunity.

The situation has raised questions regarding what is delaying the remainder of the 3.9 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines from being administered one month after delivery? How many states have exhausted their shares and what are the challenges for states that are yet to exhaust their shares? When is the second dose due for those who have received their first jabs, having regard to the standard medical duration between the first dose and second dose? When are the next batches of vaccines arriving?

The Guardian investigation revealed that delay in the arrival of the second dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is unavoidable because COVAX facility has notified Nigeria and other participating economies on delays for vaccines from Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca.

COVAX is co-led by Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and World Health Organisation (WHO). Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

According to a statement by the WHO, delays in securing supplies of SII-produced COVID-19 vaccine doses are due to the increased demand for COVID-19 vaccines in India, for which reason some first deliveries anticipated in March will now take place in April.

The Guardian reliably gathered that Nigerians might not get a second dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine until August. More troubling are reports of corruption, racketeering and slow uptake in the administration of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Guardian investigation revealed that most vaccinating centres have discarded the process of electronic registration before vaccination but were administering to Nigerians on the recommendation of the Chief Medical Director/Medical Directors.

This is coming as reports emerged that Nigeria hopes to receive up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this year through the African Union (AU). AU’s primary healthcare chief told Reuters yesterday, amid concerns about delayed deliveries of AstraZeneca shots. Nigeria, which has recorded 2,049 deaths from COVID-19 and began vaccinations in March, plans to inoculate 40 per cent of its people this year and another 30 per cent in 2022.

Last week, India – the world’s biggest vaccine maker – said it would prioritise domestic inoculations, prompting fears of delays in the export of AstraZeneca doses under the World Health Organization (WHO)-backed COVAX scheme to supply vaccines to poorer countries. In a separate development, Johnson & Johnson on Monday said it will supply the AU with up to 400 million doses of its single-dose vaccine beginning in the third quarter.

Faisal Shuaib, who heads NPHCDA, said Nigeria expects to initially receive 30 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in July through the AU.

“We are hoping that we will be able to get up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson this year. This is yet to be finalised but these are some of the advanced conversations that are going on between Nigeria and the African Union,” he said.

Nigeria previously said it had applied for 41 million doses of vaccines through the AU, comprising of Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots. But Shuaib said the proportion of AstraZenca doses was likely to be reduced by the delays.

Nigeria’s finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, has said the country will draw up a supplementary budget to cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccinations, for which no provision was made in the 2021 finance bill adopted in December. Shuaib said he expected the supplementary budget to be presented to lawmakers within the next two weeks.

A virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told The Guardian: “Nothing surprises me about Nigeria, If what we have seen on television (TV) is true, where Indians and their families are getting vaccinated while Nigerians who registered are told they are not on the priority list, then hoarding by officials is a logical step to have legitimate vaccines administered to the illegitimate people. I understand the report is being investigated. This is MAD = Medicine After Death. There must be a better foolproof mechanism to monitor who gets the vaccine on a daily basis. In fact, each time a person is vaccinated, it must be updated real-time on the NPHCDA dashboard, with the details of the recipients. Each person must bring a valid identity card to the vaccination centre so that a RAJIV is not registered as RAJI.

Reacting to the slow uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, Tomori said: “What is holding the delivery of the 3.9 million doses? It is our national and state levels of preparedness to roll out the vaccines. It has taken some states nearly two weeks from the date of receiving the vaccines to organise health workers training and other pre-roll out activities. We knew ahead of time that the vaccines were on the way. While some states acted with dispatch, others ‘dilly-dallied’ in the typical fashion of irresponsible governance and took longer to start vaccination activities. We even have a state that is using related #EndSARS activities as a cover-up for the inability to receive the vaccines. So we are not rolling out the vaccines as fast as we should because of our national attitude of relegating the important to the dustbin of inaction and putting the unimportant on the pedestal of national attention and acclaim.”

On the standard medical duration between the first dose and second dose of a vaccine, Tomori said: “It varies from 21 days to 28 days but with the scarcity of the vaccines and inability of manufacturers to meet demand, some countries are extending the interval to up to 12 weeks. This has two advantages, more people will get at least one dose and are not left unprotected. Second, it gives more time for manufacturers to deliver.”

When contacted, Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said she wouldn’t know whether the vaccines are being hoarded. But that a press release by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) yesterday (Saturday) has warned against unauthorised vaccines in circulation.

“I think NPHCDA can give these statistics because they are the statutory body that implements the vaccine used in the country.

National Chairman, Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN), Dr. Kingsley Chinedu Amibor, said he was surprised to hear that officials, probably government officials, maybe hoarding and selling the vaccines.

Amibor said COVID-19 is a killer disease; only the vaccines stand a chance of truly and finally stopping the infection/disease. He said it would therefore be unethical and inhuman for anyone in his right senses to hoard or try to sell vaccines meant to be given free to his/fellow human beings, for mere pecuniary gains. Amibor said the allegation should be investigated and if found to be true, those indicted must be sanctioned for lack of patriotism.