The Nigerian government has confirmed that it is dumping the Pfizer/Biotech COVID19 vaccine for Oxford/AstraZeneca, another Covid-19 vaccine, with 16 million doses expected at the end of February.
This is coming a day after the World Health Organization, Africa Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti announced that Nigeria failed to meet the storage capacity criteria, to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
As a criterion used in selecting African countries to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the countries will need to have the capacity to store it at minus 70 degrees Celsius.
WHO says Nigeria along with 9 other countries in Africa, aside Rwanda, Cape Verde, Tunisia and South Africa, failed to show its capacity to store the vaccine?
Regional Director of the WHO, Matshidiso Moeti, who spoke at a press briefing on COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Africa on Thursday had said only four out of 13 interested African countries were shortlisted to receive the Pfizer vaccines through COVAX, a mechanism backed by WHO for distributing vaccines to the developing world.
She noted that they were picked following evaluations by a multi-agency committee based on current mortality rates, new cases and trends, and the capacity to handle the ultra-cold chain needs of the vaccine.
Faisal Shuaib, chief executive officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA told journalists on Saturday that the country 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.
In January it would be recalled, the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Babatunde Salako, in an interview with a national tabloid, said the country does not have enough freezers to store the Pfizer vaccine which must be stored at the ultra-cold temperature of -70°C.
But days after this comment, Dr Faisal Shuaib gave journalists a tour of the National Strategic Cold Store in Abuja. During the tour, he said Nigeria has the capacity to store up to 400,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
According to Shuaib, 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.
“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.”
WHO had earlier promised that the Pfizer vaccine will arrive in the country at the end of January?
It would be recalled that Nigeria had announced, through the PTF on COVID19, that it will receive its first supply of 100,000 doses of the COVID19 vaccine from Pfizer, through the COVAX facility by the end of January.
But backtracked on the former announced date of arrival, saying the vaccine will not arrive until February and giving no reason for the change in delivery date.
At a press briefing, Saturday Shuaib said Nigeria was not delisted from getting the covid-19 vaccine, but that the country will be going for a different one and not the Pfizer/Biotech vaccine.
He explained further that giving Cape Verde and Rwanda a few doses of Pfizer vaccines would have a larger public health impact, considering their small population size.
And corroborating Shuaib’s statement in a briefing on Saturday in Abuja, WHO Country Representative, Dr Wondimagegnehu Alemu, said the global health body did not disqualify Nigeria for any reason.
He explained that COVAX decided to replace the initial 100,000 doses of Pfizer with 16 million doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine.
He stated that issues around population, fatalities from COVID-19 were some of the considerations the Selection Committee used in choosing which country received which vaccine.
Alemu revealed that Nigeria will receive the Pfizer vaccine as supplies increases, adding that the Astrazeneca vaccine, which is more in supply, will meet more of the needs in Nigeria.
But as a plus, unlike the Pfizer vaccine that requires storage at the ultra freezing temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius, the storage temperature for the AstraZeneca vaccine is just 2-4 degrees Celsius, a condition that makes it ideal for most African countries like Nigeria with deprived electricity supply and probably inadequate storage facilities.
The snag however here is that this particular vaccine has yet to receive the World Health Organisation approval for emergency use.
The implication of Moeti’s Thursday’s announcement that Nigeria was not among the countries to receive the Pfizer vaccine saw news media awash with report that Nigeria had been disqualified from the process due to, among other reasons, lack of the required storage capacity.
“WHO is part of Covax facility and can never disqualify a Member State from accessing an approved vaccine for their population,” a WHO representative Kazadi Mulombo, tweeted on Saturday. “I call upon members of the press in Nigeria and globally to contribute to fighting misinformation.”
The helmsman of NPHCDA has assured Nigerians of its determination and commitment in acquiring the covid-19 vaccines that are safe, effective, and available for deployment.