When Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa received the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, government officials and stakeholders heaved a sigh of relieve.

For Dr Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, “It is a feeling of relief and elation that at last we are joining the community of nations who can vaccinate their citizens against COVID-19 disease  which has been raging across the world. We have to some extent lagged but are relieved that we can now start vaccinating our citizens. 

On 02 March 2021, Nigeria received nearly 4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, shipped via the COVAX Facility, a partnership between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO. The consignment for Nigeria made it the third country in West Africa after Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire to receive the vaccines.

Understandably, partners in the forefront of COVID-19 response echoed the Minister’s excitement.

To Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the WHO Nigeria Country Representative (WR), “This is a real milestone for Nigeria and as a member of WHO, I really feel proud to have been part of the COVAX facility alongside GAV, CEPI and UNICEF. We are proud that we are able to ship this first consignment to Nigeria which will start the campaign that will hopefully end the pandemic not only in Nigeria but even outside Nigeria. I really feel proud to have been part of history in the making.”

COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working in partnership with UNICEF, the World Bank, civil society organisations, manufacturers, and others. COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.  

It could be recalled that when the first case was reported on 27th February, 2020, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), with support from partners, such as the World Health Organization, mounted  a robust response plan  to contain its spread; one of the highly acclaimed  responses by  developing economies.

Therefore, while waiting to receive the vaccines at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, a highly expectant Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of NCDC said, “Today we will start a journey in Nigeria that will hopefully take us back to some normalcy of living the way we love to live in Nigeria, full of life, able to shake hands, able to take off face mask and able to celebrate with each other, but for now ,all recommended non pharmacological interventions(NPIs) must continue. Today is a very important day for our country. 

Equitable distribution plan
Nigeria will not recover from COVID-19 pandemic if there is inequity in the distribution of the vaccines across all the States. To address this concern, the Minister of Health said that there ”  is a very intricate distribution plan that has been set up by the federal ministry of health  and organized by  the National Primary Health Care Development Agency; the agency  responsible for  immunizations which also have a lot of experience from the polio eradication initiative for addressing all the logistics and difficulties required to ensure delivery of vaccines to every eligible person.

I am satisfied that the National vaccine deployment plan (NDVP) will be properly executed and the advisory of starting with frontline health workers, the elderly and the vulnerable population will be adhered to”. 

Speaking further, Dr Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director of NPHCDA said, “This is a key part of our commitment to the Nigerian people to ensure full transparency, as we distribute and introduce safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”.

For more information visit the WHO website https://www.afro.who.int/