By Ishaku Yohanna
The World Health Organisation, (WHO)-led COVAX Global Initiative has excluded Nigeria from African countries shortlisted for the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines following the country’s inability to meet the standard requirement of being able to store the vaccines at the required -70 degrees Celsius.
African countries shortlisted to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are Cape Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia.
Nigeria was expected to be on the list of African countries to receive the first set of Pfizer vaccines because of its rate of infection which is now the sixth-highest on the continent.
Only South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia have higher infection rates than Nigeria.
The Nigerian government had stated that it was expected to receive 100,000 doses through the COVAX initiative, which was set up to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level.
But speaking at a virtual press conference, 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 because WHO could not risk the Pfizer vaccines being wasted.
“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,” she said.
Meanwhile, Morocco and Egypt have already independently obtained vaccines and begun distribution while South Africa, which has the highest burden of the disease in Africa, has already procured one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, produced in India but has yet to begin distribution.
Nigeria has, however, received no COVID-19 vaccine even as its rate of infection has continued to surge.
The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Faisal Shuaib, had described WHO’s report as fake, saying Nigeria had the capacity to store the vaccines and had taken journalists on a tour of its facility in Abuja.
But the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Prof Babatunde Salako, said there is not enough space at the moment to store the Pfizer vaccines at the minus 70 degrees Celsius temperature.