NIGERIA’S plan to provide Covid-19 vaccinations for 40 per cent of its population by the end of 2021 could only be realised through interevention from donor agencies, as its 2021 approved budget did not reflect any monetary provision to that effect.
This was revealed at the Presidential Task Force briefing on Covid-19 on February 1, by Faisal Shuaib, chief executive officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency who said the country was expecting 16 million doses of Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccines from a COVAX facility.
“The COVAX facility has informed us that they will be supplying Nigeria with approximately 16 million doses of Astrazeneca vaccine this month.
“This will replace the earlier communicated 100,000 doses of Pfizer mRNA vaccine, which was grossly inadequate,” he said.
The COVAX programme is a global initiative supported by the World Health Organisation, WHO and Vaccine Alliance to equitably distribute Covid-19 vaccines to 92 middle and low – income countries.
The project was expected to raise $8 billion but $6 billion was realised to purchase 2 billion doses of the vaccines of which Africa is expected to get 600 million doses.
With Nigeria still reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic which has crippled the nation’s economy and raised its high debt obligations, experts say the robust financing of the nation’s health infrastructure will help prevent an upsurge of the pandemic.
A review of the approved budget of the 2021 fiscal year by The ICIR revealed otherwise, as the Federal Ministry of Health did not outline any specific project for Covid-19 vaccines or logistics required for a nationwide roll-out of the vaccines if they are made available.
Four insignificant items that were not related to vaccines administration which was spotted in ministry’s budget include assessing the effects of Covid-19 on snakebite patients, monitoring snakebite surveillance and the purchase of a Hilux van for the supervision which was valued at N12.5 million.
The allocation of N4.04 million which was budgeted for ”epidemic preparedness, capacity development on COVID-19, Lassa Fever and Ebola”.
Others are the purchase of 15 handheld air quality model equipment in and during Covid-19 pandemic at N24.7 million and implementation of community sanitation across the 36 states in the country during Covid-19 pandemic at N16.2 million.
This makes Nigeria’s hope of realising its ambitious goal of vaccinating about 40 per cent of its population by the end of 2021, a far-fetched dream.
Where does Nigeria stand?
According to records from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Nigeria’s infection rate is growing rapidly having recorded 42,950 new cases in January which is the highest monthly number of infections since the outset of the virus in the country last year.
Nigeria’s 2021 approved budget showed that the Ministry of Health was allocated N549 billion which accounts for 4.4 per cent of the total budget but when compared to the 2020 budgetary allocation for health, it was a 4 per cent reduction.
An unspecified project described as “Gavi/Immunisation” was assigned N45 billion while another vague item identified as “Counterpart funding including Global fund/Health/Gavi refund” was assigned N5.5 billion.
However, Gavi is an international organisation that was formed in 2000, to improve access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries.
Under the Covax facility, Pfizer’s vaccine was the only vaccine listed for emergency use by the WHO until Astrazeneza vaccines were recently added.
If the N45 billion in the health ministry’s budget is stipulated for the vaccines then that amount would be able to purchase complete doses of vaccines for 27 million Nigerians at the rate of $2.16 per dose.
With the cost of an Astrazeneza vaccine at $2.16 per dose of which each person is expected to get two doses which means that vaccinating 140 million Nigerians which is 70 per cent of the population that needs to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity would cost N115 billion.
Since two doses are required for each person, this means N230 billion would be needed before Nigeria can attain herd immunity.
South Africa, Africa’s worst virus-hit country had ordered for AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine at a price which was 2.5 times higher than most European countries.
Members of the EU paid $2.16 for each AstraZeneca’s vaccine shot, according to information leaked by a Belgian minister, Eva De Bleeker, on a tweet which he deleted, South Africa had paid $5.25 for the same vaccine shot.
In its defence, the EU said its members are entitled to a lower price because they were invested in the vaccine’s development, however, more than 2,000 South Africans had volunteered to participate in clinical trials for the AstraZeneca vaccine in 2020.
At the hearing of the Senate on the Federal Government plans to procure Covid-19 vaccines for Nigerians, Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s health minister said the country would need N400 billion to vaccinate 70 per cent of the population to achieve herd immunity.
“About N400 billion would be required to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 200 million population at $8 per person. We will need N156 billion for 2021, while N200 billion will cater for the vaccines supply in 2022,” he said.
With the inflated costs of the vaccines for low-income countries, Nigeria is expected to spend at least N280 billion going by the amount the vaccines were sold to South Africa.
Low-income countries to depend on COVAX vaccine grants
South Africa and India had proposed to the World Trade Organisation, WTO, that countries should be allowed waivers of patents related to Covid-19 vaccines, for the duration of the pandemic to allow middle and low-income countries get access to the vaccines.
“As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand,” the official statement read.
Their request was turned down as richer countries namely the United Kingdom, United States of America, Switzerland including members of the European Union, EU opposed the idea.
As of January 18, the world’s 50 richest countries had received 39 million vaccine doses when compared to 25 individual vaccine doses in low-income countries.
According to data by analytics company Airfinity, Canada has bought “enough doses to vaccinate each Canadian five times”
More developed countries such as the US and EU states have regulatory agencies that “complement” WHO’s work and could therefore roll out vaccines without the body’s approval but developing countries rely on the WHO to carry out due diligence.
The African Union, AU, is expected to secure 270 million doses to be delivered from April, through a $7 billion funding from lenders but the vaccines are yet to be approved by WHO for distribution on the continent.
According to the price list of the vaccines released by Bleeker in his tweet, the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine costs $2.16 per dose, $8.50 per dose for Johnson & Johnson vaccine, $9.26 for the Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline vaccine and $12.25 for the CureVac.
Some of these vaccines are still in the stages of development, and their advance purchasing agreements may never be activated or may take longer before the contract the EU signed with them becomes active if their vaccines work.
John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed in an interview that it would take three or four years to meet 60 per cent vaccination target which is needed to achieve herd immunity.
“The continent as a whole has never vaccinated 200 million people in one year but my fear is that we will peak, probably have the same peak as in July or August, in the coming months,” he said.
A survey carried out by the Africa CDC and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which was published in December 2020, found that four out of every five African would be willing to take a Covid-19 vaccine “if it was deemed safe and effective”.
The Seychelles, Morocco and Egypt are administering the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine and Guinea the Russian Sputnik V which are yet to be approved by the WHO.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.