Abuja — COVID-19 vaccination commenced in Nigeria yesterday with frontline healthcare workers in Abuja taking the first shots from the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines that arrived in the country last Tuesday.
The elaborate ceremony was held at the Trauma Centre, National Hospital, Abuja.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha kicked off the exercise on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The vaccination ceremony was graced by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, FCT Minister Mohammed Musa Bello, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and representatives of donor agencies. The President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, was represented by Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe.
Dr. Ehanire disclosed that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had certified the vaccine safe for use in Nigeria.
He said the certification came in the early hours of yesterday, ahead of the vaccine's launch in Abuja.
Ehanire who disclosed that the launch would have been cancelled if the agency did not give the final go-ahead, added that the vaccine underwent a 48-hour test after arriving the country on Tuesday March 2.
He said: "The long-awaited day is here in which Nigerians can now join the global community to be vaccinated against the dreaded COVID-19 virus."
The health minister warned against any foul play from the people tasked with the vaccination exercise, stressing that any infraction that embarrassed Nigeria would attract heavy sanctions.
Ehanire also stated that the vaccination exercise must be done in accordance with the guidelines as clearly stipulated by Ministry of Health.
The minister said pregnant women and persons under the age of 18 "are ineligible to take the vaccine except where it is medically advised otherwise as a result of underlining ailment."
Mustapha saluted the professionalism and heroic nature of the healthcare workers, for being in the frontline and the last line of defence against the virus by laying down their lives in the Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and treatment centres for the cause of the people who contracted the virus.
"The human activities that culminated in the arrival, authorisation and distribution of vaccines have shown that humanity, when working for a common goal and unity of purpose, possess the capacity to achieve a lot. This is more so because the virus spread around all countries and territories of the world with alarming speed, recorded millions of infections and fatalities, without discrimination on the basis of sex, creed, tribe, language and even status.
"For us in Nigeria and indeed, nations of the world, the lessons to be drawn from this lack of discrimination by the virus, are numerous," Mustapha said.
The SGF urged Nigerians to approach the vaccines phase with unity of purpose and understand that nobody is safe until everyone is vaccinated.
He also asked them to recognise that vaccine hesitancy would impact negatively on their lives and those of loved ones, if allowed to fester.
He said they must demonstrate at all times that this is war of Non Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) and vaccines for the survival of everyone.
He described the ceremony as the beginning of a well-detailed vaccination plan that will reach every eligible Nigerian over 2021 and 2022, when government is hoping to have covered over 70 per cent of Nigerians and achieve herd immunity.
The SGF urged Nigerians not to patronise fraudsters who are out to defraud, get rich and in the end, endanger their lives.
He stated that the vaccines were very sensitive life-saving commodity and that the only authorsed source was the federal government that had signed indemnity with the manufacturers.
A family physician at the National Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Cyprian Ngong, became the first health worker to receive the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria.
Dr Ngong was administered the historic jab by the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib.
Other health workers, who were touted for saving more than 10,549 lives at the COVID-19 isolation centre at Gwagwalada, were also given the historic AstraZeneca vaccine jabs.
They included a family physician, Dr. Nuhu Sambodeen, Chief Nursing Officer, National Hospital, Mrs Faith Eragbai and Dr. Tahir Yunusa.
Dr. Ngong, who incidentally lost his father to an apparent COVID-19 complication, spoke on behalf of the other recipients. He demystified the conspiracy theories about COVID-19 as uninformed, while urging the public to avail themselves for vaccination.
He also declared that his father would not have died from the exposure to the virus if a vaccine had arrived much earlier than now.