Since the COVID-19 vaccination began in the US in mid-December 2020, Africa had been looking forward to its turn. For Nigeria, that time came on 2nd March 2021 when the first batch of 3.9 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the country from the Serum Institute of India.
The delivery is part of a first phase of arrivals in Nigeria that will continue in the coming days and weeks. It is part of the COVAX facility arrangement, which is spearheaded by GAVI and the World Health Organization (WHO), to ensure fair and equitable distribution to all countries. It marks a major step towards ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally.
In total, Nigeria is expecting 84 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. That should cover about 20 per cent of the country's 200 million population. The AstraZeneca vaccine requires two doses per person.
Nigeria's Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, says that, from its arrangements with African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim Bank), about 80 to 85 million doses of vaccines are guaranteed for the country.
The government is also mobilizing the private sector to support vaccine procurement. Last month, telecom giant MTN delivered 300,000 doses and other big companies are expected to follow MTN's example. To ensure quality of the vaccines, these companies are encouraged to route vaccine donations through Afrexim Bank.
Local pharmaceutical manufacturers may be able to produce a COVID-19 vaccine within a year, says Boss Mustapha, chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the country's pandemic response coordinating agency. As a result, the government is mobilizing financial and logistical support for them.
70% coverage of 200 million people by 2022
The goal is to have enough vaccines for 70 per cent of Nigeria's 200 million people by 2022, adds Mr. Mustapha who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Mustapha has sought to dismiss fears about Nigeria's capacity to handle a vaccination campaign, pointing out the country's long experience in handling mass vaccination programmes, especially with polio.
Vaccine hesitancy, however, is strong among Nigerians according to a poll by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, which showed that only 50% of the population would like to be vaccinated.
Despite government's repeated assurances, many citizens still believe that the vaccines have long-term side effects.
To dispel such feelings and to prove its safety, President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had their vaccinations televised live.
"I have received my first jab and I wish to commend it to all eligible Nigerians to do the same so that we can be protected from the virus," Mr. Buhari said, moments after getting his first dose.
Because of the country's unreliable power supply and the major vaccines' need for ultra-cold freezers, the AstraZeneca vaccine with its warmer temperature requirement appears to have a leg up on the competition.
"Everything we are expecting from the COVAX facility is going to be of the AstraZeneca variety Dr. Ehanire explained to Africa Renewal. It has a good range in terms of storage for us because it uses just plus 2° degrees centigrade to plus 8° degrees centigrade of refrigeration. It doesn't come with a new complication."
Even more critical is the capacity of the local administration to handle vaccination. Distribution to the various States in the country began 24 hours after the vaccines arrived in the country. Prior to the arrival, the central government predicated access to the vaccines, with States satisfactorily meeting the conditions to keep them safe and potent.
"We will not be sending vaccines to States that have not fulfilled all of the criteria that will ensure that they are going to be safe," Dr. Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, says.
The central government appointed vaccine accountability officers in the States and local government areas to closely monitor their management and utilization. These officers are also to ensure retrieval of vaccine vials for proper disposal.
The various States are not expected to release the vaccines to their local government area authorities unless they meet the minimum criteria for the successful conduct of the campaigns such as training, cold storage capabilities, availability of data-gathering tools and of transport and logistics for healthcare workers, adequate security for vaccines, among others.
Nigeria is currently registering people electronically for vaccination to ensure efficient and orderly scheduling of the date and time to receive the vaccine, Mr. Shuaib tells Africa Renewal. This is the first time Nigeria will pre-register people for vaccination.
All persons 18 years and above can register for the vaccination through an e-registration portal. The country relies on the media to promote this e-registration under an electronic immunization data management scheme.
The vaccination is then carried out in phases, according to predetermined classifications, Mr. Shuaib says. Frontline health workers are prioritized for the jab so they can safely care for others.
The primary health care agency uses its electronic database to track those who have received the first dose in order to know when they are due for their second dose.
"We input the date of the first dose and when they take the second. We have their names and addresses in the database," Mr. Shuaib confirms to Africa Renewal.
Meanwhile, the rate of COVID-19 infections is alarming authorities. By the third week of March, the Nigerian CDC reported over 162,000 confirmed cases and about 2,000 deaths.