WHO denies Nigeria, others Pfizer vaccines over lack of proper storage equipment
Nigeria, the most populous nation on the continent of Africa, and seven other countries which showed interest in securing the Pfizer vaccines failed to make the shortlist as released by the World Health Organisation-led COVAX global initiative. Nigeria was disqualified from the bid following the country’s inability to meet the standard condition of being able to store the vaccines at the required -70 degrees Celsius. This development has dashed the expectation of the government to receive 100,000 doses through the COVAX initiative, set up to ensure rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level. The Director, WHO, African Region, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said only four African countries were shortlisted for the Pfizer vaccine out of the 13 that applied. Moeti disclosed this while speaking at a virtual press conference on Friday. She said countries without standard requirements needed to store the vaccines would waste them and the organisation could not afford to waste the Pfizer vaccines. She said, “Around 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been allocated to four African countries – Cape Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia. This vaccine has received WHO Emergency Use Listing but requires countries to be able to store and distribute doses at minus 70 degrees Celsius. “To access an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine, countries were invited to submit proposals. Thirteen African countries submitted proposals and were evaluated 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. “This announcement allows countries to fine-tune their planning for Covid-19 immunisation campaigns. We urge African nations to ramp up readiness and finalise their national vaccine deployment plans. Regulatory processes, cold chain systems and distribution plans need to be in place to ensure vaccines are safely expedited from ports of entry to delivery. We can’t afford to waste a single dose.” Meanwhile, following the country’s lack of required equipment to store the Pfizer vaccines Moeti suggested that Nigeria and other countries that failed to be shortlisted should go for Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine later in the month which does not require the same storage condition with Pfizer. Unlike the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, which has the highest WHO rating, Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is produced in India, has not been endorsed by WHO. Nigeria has, however, procured one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine but has yet to begin distribution. Speaking on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Moeti said,“Nearly 90 million of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could start arriving on the continent later this month. This is subject to the WHO listing the vaccine for emergency use. The review is ongoing and its outcome is expected very soon.” Nigeria has not started vaccination despite being the sixth “worst” hit country in Africa coming behind countries like South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia with higher infection rates Most of these countries have independently secured vaccines while Nigeria has received no COVID-19 vaccine even as its rate of infection has continued to surge. The WHO director said it was time for African countries to up their game in the rollout of vaccines. She said the initial phase of 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines would support countries to immunise three per cent of the African population most in need of protection, including health workers and other vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021. “As production capacity increases and more vaccines become available, the aim is to vaccinate at least 20 per cent of Africans by providing up to 600 million doses by the end of 2021,” Moeti said. All hope of securing vaccines is not, however, lost for Nigeria as the country is bound to be one of the beneficiaries of the African Union’s vaccines procured on behalf of its member States. The AU has secured 670 millio vaccine doses for the continent to complement COVAX efforts and the vaccines will be distributed in 2021 and 2022. Nigeria can take solace in AU-secured vaccines as its population will give it an edge over other countries on the country to the highest shipment. This is because the Union has said the vaccines will be distributed based on population.