Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Control, Boss Mustapha

•WHO: Country on track to receive first share this month, rubbishes disqualification reports
•16 million doses on the way
•Agency: Nigeria has facilities to store Pfizer vaccine

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on Saturday dismissed, as false, reports that Nigeria was disqualified from receiving the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) COVID-19 vaccine.

The agency itself rubbished the disqualification reports on Saturday, saying Nigeria was well on track to receive its own share of the vaccine, while the Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said Nigeria has ultra-cold chain equipment to store the Pfizer vaccine whenever it lands here.

Media reports on Saturday had claimed that Nigeria was disqualified, on Friday, from benefitting from the WHO-led COVAX initiative, owing to alleged non-availability of required refrigerating facilities for the Pfizer vaccine.

It had been listed to receive 100,000 doses of the vaccine to be administered to those in the frontline workers’ category.

The disqualification reports were declared untrue and misleading yesterday by the PTF, WHO and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).

The National Incident Manager of the PTF, Dr. Mukhtar Muhammad, said in Abuja that Nigeria was not in any way disqualified from getting vaccines from COVAX.

He said what happened was that a new deal was negotiated by Nigeria for the stock of vaccines and doses to be received.

He said that while the initial agreement was for the country to receive 100,000 doses of the Pfizer product, the new agreement with COVAX would see the country receive 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Muhammad said it was all mutually planned and agreed between the country and COVAX, adding that Nigeria’s preference of vaccines has always been those that are not high-cold-chain dependent.

“It’s not true that we are disqualified. We are aware of it, it’s part of the negotiations,” he said.

“You know Pfizer was supposed to give us 100,000 and we are doing it through the COVAX facility, now what they did was to look at countries that are more prepared than us and they gave them the Pfizer doses. However, in place of that, we are getting 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca from COVAX.

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“So it is just a shift in planning, not a disqualification, which is even better for us and we are aware. Nigeria is aware of the deal and Nigeria agreed to that deal. We knew about this since Monday this week.

“It’s not a disqualification, but an agreement. It was mutually discussed and agreed and you know that our preference has always been for vaccines that are not these high-cold-chain dependent.

“We may not have a problem getting the 100,000 to Abuja, but the problem is taking them round the country. Even though the 100,000 is meant to be provided to the frontline workers, which will not be a problem, we can reach all of them with that, but just looking at the long term arrangement, which we think is a better deal. Rather than getting 100,000, we are now getting 16 million, which is just in a short while.”

Nigeria never disqualified from accessing COVID-19 vaccines – WHO
The disqualification reports were similarly denied by the WHO whose Country Representative, Dr. Walter Mulombo Kazadi, said the agency is not in the business of disqualifying member states from assessing an approved vaccine for their population.

“WHO is part of Covax facility and can never disqualify a Member State from accessing an approved vaccine for their population,” Kazadi tweeted on Saturday.

He asked the press “in Nigeria and globally to contribute to fighting misinformation.”

He added: “Earlier, I emphasised WHO’s stand in ensuring equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines across the world and in Nigeria as one of the AMC countries. COVID-19 vaccines portfolio is growing, and Nigeria is set to receive its first share this month.”

Kazadi also said WHO was making efforts to ensure all countries “access vaccines as quickly as possible”.

“Of the 88 million AstraZeneca doses allocated to African countries for the first phase, Nigeria has received by far the largest allocation, with 16 million doses,” he said.

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“In addition to the AstraZeneca doses, there is an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine available through COVAX.

“Demand for the initial allocation of 1.2 million Pfizer doses was exceptionally high. COVAX received interest from 72 countries around the world, of which 51 countries were considered by the review committee as ‘ready’ — Nigeria was among these countries — and 18 countries in total were finally chosen to receive initial Pfizer doses.

“On the Africa continent, as of the January 18 deadline, COVAX received 13 submissions and a multi-agency committee evaluated the proposals of which nine (9) were recommended as ready to deploy the Pfizer vaccine, including Nigeria.

“Unfortunately, it was not feasible to provide each of these 51 countries with Pfizer doses, due to a number of factors, including the limited capacity for Pfizer to handle many countries at once. Therefore, spreading the limited doses across all the 51 countries deemed ‘ready’ could have not achieved the intended public health benefit.

“After epidemiological data was taken into account, the decision was taken to proportionally balance the number of self-financing and AMC participants, as well as participants across all six WHO regions.”

NPHCDA: Nigeria has facilities to store Pfizer vaccine
The Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Faisal Shuaib, also spoke on the controversy yesterday.

He told reporters in Abuja that Nigeria has ultra-cold chain equipment “which can store over 400,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine if these were brought to Nigeria”.

He said the cold chain equipment was used to store vaccines for the eradication of polio in Nigeria.

He said although the recommended temperature is minus 70 degrees Celsius, there is information that “dry ice” can be used to keep the temperature at minus 70 degrees Celsius during transportation.

“We have engaged private companies that will support the production of the dry ice to make sure that as we deploy the vaccines to the sub-national level, the vaccines retain their potency,” Shuaib said.

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“But beyond that, we also have information from Pfizer that you can keep this vaccine within the temperature of plus two to plus eight for a duration of five days.

“So even when it gets to the rural areas, you can still keep these vaccines within the solar direct-drive cold chain equipment for five days.

“Those are some of the processes that we are calculating, computing them to make sure that our strategies are spot-on.”

Nigeria pushing to get COVID-19 vaccines by February — Onyeama
Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said in a separate interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that the government was making efforts and hopeful to get the coronavirus vaccines to the country by the end of this month.

“What we are engaging with China is in the area of vaccines for COVID-19, so we are also looking to import, to acquire significant vaccines from China and other partners too,” he said.

“I think in the short immediate time that is an area we will need China.

“They have cooperated with us with regards to personal protective equipment and other things in our COVID response.

“So we are now at the stage of the vaccine and we are hoping that we can get some support from them in that area.

“There are different ways we are expecting to get the vaccines. There is the bilateral way as a country that we are negotiating.

“Then we have the framework of the African Union collectively as a continent; they are also engagements to receive vaccines.

“The African Union has made some headway, more than 400 million as what has been agreed to. So we were hoping that at the end of January we would have started receiving the vaccines.

“But I think almost certainly by the middle of February we should have started receiving.”

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