COVID-19 Vaccination: Averting a Disastrous Exercise

On Tuesday March 2nd, Nigeria received its first batch of 3.92million doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine shipped via the COVAX facility; a partnership between Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), Gavi, United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO). This is said to be the first shipment out of the over 16million doses allocated to the country via the COVAX arrangement targeting about 20 percent of the population.

The arrival of the vaccine has expectedly, elicited excitement in government circles and among the general citizenry in the wake of the morbid havoc and disruptions wrought by the Covid-19 global pandemic. This excitement is equally due to mass relief in the face of paucity of information and initial uncertainty which surrounded the vaccine acquisition and its roll out.

As the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), commences the inoculation of Nigerians, the National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) wishes to sound a note of caution before the nationwide inoculation yet becomes another disastrous outing.

The government has announced what appears to be a robust phased plan for the administration of the vaccine starting with healthcare workers, frontline workers, ports of entry, military, COVID-19 rapid response team, policemen, petrol station workers and strategic leadership, all the way through varying degrees of individuals vulnerabilities, including age and comorbidities, before the apparently healthy and the youthful in the general population.

We implore the NPHCDA to resist any pressure to jettison this laudable plan by ensuring fairness and transparency in the inoculation exercise. The safety and health of Nigerians should be the overriding interest to guide the exercise. The ugly incident of hoarding of COVID-19 palliatives which were denied the vulnerable segment of the society and the hijack of medical kits donated by the billionaire, Jack Ma, by some political interests must not repeat itself. 

NPHCDA must pay particular attention to its website which hosts the nationwide online registration portal and booking of prospective vaccine recipients by taking steps to resolve all observed bottlenecks that may hinder a hitch free inoculation exercise.

In the last one year, the COVID-19 response in Nigeria has been largely devoid of synergy between the Federal Government and the 36 states government of the federation. The resultant effect has been the knee jerk approach put in place by many State governments which are clearly not working. The inoculation process, a massive landmark in concerted worldwide strategies at arresting the scourge,  places a greater responsibility on the states and must not be allowed to go this same way of uncoordinated actions. There is therefore an urgent need for the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force and NPHCDA to develop a solid multi-sectoral collaboration with the state governments in the form of technical support  to ensure a smooth and stress-free inoculation process.

The recent bursting of a fake COVID-19 vaccine distribution centre in China and South Africa by the International Police Organisation (INTERPOL) and the worrisome revelation that there may be similar centres across the world is a wakeup call for Nigeria. The Federal Government must put necessary structures in place, and place all regulatory and security agencies on alert to ensure unscrupulous and criminal elements do not take advantage of a precarious situation to endanger the lives of Nigerians. All efforts must be made to ensure fake vaccines are not imported into Nigeria.

It is a welcome development that within a 24 hour period, 2.3 million Nigerians were reported to have registered through the NPHCDA online registration, a proof of growing enthusiasm among Nigerians. But we would need to add that there are still a vast majority of Nigerians that do not believe in the existence of the virus or fully trust the efficacy of the vaccine and therefore, hesitancy in vaccination is still a veritable obstacle to whatever efforts that have been deployed. The political class should denounce and call to order some of its members who are out to trivialize the existence of the virus and the vaccine rollout. NPHCDA should not relent in its communication campaign and should vigorously enlist the support of traditional rulers, state actors, non-governmental organisations and other online and offline influencers to convince Nigerians about the proven safety and efficacy of the vaccine. 

More importantly, while Nigerians look forward to the inoculation exercise, it is imperative to note that we must not jettison already existing efforts in protecting the public by public health measures already in place. 

The government has a duty to ensure the safety of Nigerians in this trying period of global pandemic. This utmost responsibility must be fulfilled to Nigerians. Nigerians on the other hand must rally behind the government to achieve the desired result if we must defeat the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

Abiola Owoaje
NAS Capoon
Abuja, Nigeria

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