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Nigeria’s wait for Pfizer vaccine suffers delay over storage, delivery capacities

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given preference to other countries ahead of Nigeria in the first round of supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said Nigeria was overlooked based on certain criteria including the capacity to store it at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Out of the 13 countries that expressed interest, the initially-favoured are Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia.

According to Moeti, the process of selecting the four countries was “challenging”, adding that “supplies were limited”.

“We look forward to working with the other countries to expand this vaccine delivery,” she said.

Nigeria had submitted a proposal to be supplied the vaccine being donated by COVAX, the global alliance against COVID-19.

But the major concern has been its lack of storage capacity, although the country had reportedly acquired three ultra-cold freezers in anticipation of the vaccine’s arrival.

The country failed to make any provision in the 2021 budget to fund the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines.

Moeti’s statement read: “In addition, around 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been allocated to four African countries: Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia.  Deliveries are also expected later on in February,” she said.

“To access an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine, countries were invited to submit proposals. Thirteen African countries expressed an interest in participating in the initiative, and their proposals were evaluated based on current mortality rates, new cases and trends and capacities to deliver this vaccine, including to store it at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

“I have to say that this was a challenging process as we know all countries want to start vaccinating their populations. The supplies were limited but we are glad that we will have a number of countries start and we look forward to working with the other countries to expand this vaccine delivery.”

The delay deals a heavy blow on Nigeria’s plan to promptly vaccinate its citizens against COVID-19 which has already killed 1,640 out of the 138,000 infected.

Only recently, Faisal Shuaib, executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), said the country is anticipating the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine “in the coming weeks” not knowing what lies ahead.

In much-awaited news, the COVAX facility  – which is the vaccine component of the ACT Accelerator – has informed African countries of the first allocations of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Nearly 90 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could start arriving on the continent later this month. This is subject to WHO listing the vaccine for emergency use. The review is ongoing, and its outcome is expected very soon.

These doses would help countries reach 3% of their populations in the first half of 2021, targeting the most-at-risk groups, especially frontline health workers.

As production capacities increase, the COVAX facility is aiming to reach at least 20% of Africans, which will require delivery of up to 600 million doses during this year.

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