The Federal Government has asked all the states administering the COVID-19 vaccine to stop the exercise the moment they use half of the doses allocated to them.
Sunday PUNCH, through its investigations, found that the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaibu, had asked all the states to suspend vaccination when they reach half of the doses delivered to them.
This implies that a state that was given 100,000 doses would have to halt the vaccine rollout once the doses hit 50,000 in order for those who have received their first jab to be able to complete their vaccination.
The move, it was learnt, had become necessary due to a possible delay in the supply of the next batch of the AstraZeneca vaccines, which could affect the availability of the vaccine for a second jab for those who have taken the first.
The shortage of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the international market is caused by a surge in the demand by the European Union and a new policy by India which manufactures the vaccine. India had said last week that it would prioritise domestic vaccination for its over 1.2 billion citizens, thereby causing a shortage in developing nations like Nigeria.
Confirming the development to one of our correspondents who made an enquiry on the matter, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora, said states were asked to stop vaccination halfway until more vaccines arrive because it was the smartest thing to do since it is a double-dose vaccine.
Mamora said, “On the issue of stopping at half doses, we thought this is what wisdom dictates because in a situation where we seem to be in short supply, it stands to good reason to ensure that those who have had their first dose should be given the opportunity of having the second dose.
“It is better to have a pool of people who have received full vaccination rather than just do it halfway for everybody, which I think would not be the best in the circumstance. And you are not really covered if you have your full dosage.”
When asked when Nigerians should expect more vaccines, Mamora said he could not say because it is currently a ‘sellers’ market’.
He, however, said Nigeria was already having talks with other parties including Russia, which is producing the Sputnik V vaccine.
The minister stated, “The truth is there is a challenge. However, we are not hopeless. The COVAX facility is not the only one we rely on. There is also AVATT, the regional facility which is the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. So, we definitely will be looking to AVATT to help increase the initial allocation in the circumstances with what is happening vis-a-vis production and supply from India.
“Both AVATT and COVAX are multilateral facilitators, but we also have bilateral negotiations. For example, the Sputnik is bilateral in the sense that it is government to government. Sputnik is Russian and as soon as we have the dossier and approval from NAFDAC, then we will consider it.”
Mamora stated that the Federal Government might have to increase its budget for vaccines since AstraZeneca, which is the cheapest in the market, is not readily available.
He said, “One of the reasons we settled for AstraZeneca is not just because it is cheap but is as good as the others. They are giving it out at cost value. The challenge is that the initial element in terms of cost projection would have to increase because AstraZeneca is the cheapest. So, we may have to reconsider our initial cost projection. That is the challenge I see.”
The Federal Government had received 3.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines through COVAX, a global initiative co-led by the Global Vaccine Alliance, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and World Health Organisation. The initiative was designed to ensure fair and equitable access for every country.
The vaccine arrived in Nigeria on March 2, 2021 while in the second week of March the government began distribution to states, except Kogi, whose governor, Yahaya Bello, had described COVID-19 as glorified malaria.
Persons who opt for AstraZeneca vaccines must take two doses which are usually administered at least two months apart. It was learnt that Ekiti, Bauchi and Kwara states had already administered half of their vaccine supply and had complied with the government’s directive to halt further roll-out.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Bauchi State Primary Health Care Development Agency and Contacts and Surveillance Sub-Committee Chairman, Bauchi State Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Rilwan Mohammed, told Sunday PUNCH that the Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaibu, wrote to Commissioners for Health in the states to suspend vaccination so that people who had received the first jab could get the second one.
Mohammed stated that Bauchi State was given 89,570 doses but had to stop administering the vaccines immediately after it received the letter having administered about half already. “We have 32,000 coverage but the call-up data is actually 41,000 just that we are still uploading to the national site because of network problems,” he added.
He stated, “There is a shortage of supply of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Faisal Shuaibu, wrote to all the states that we should suspend vaccination when we reach half of the doses we got.
“The Federal Government realised that within eight to 12 weeks, you must be able to give the second dose but if there is no second dose to give, that means we have wasted the first dose, so they told us to stop if we have reached halfway.
“There is a crisis in the AstraZeneca production. India is having COVID-19 mutation in their country, so they decided to allocate more doses to themselves before exporting it. Secondly, the European Union which initially claimed that the vaccine had some issues has now come back after they found out that the vaccine is okay and they had made a forward request.”
Nevertheless, he explained that the state had set aside a small portion of the vaccine for intending pilgrims because vaccination had become a requirement for those visiting holy cities.
He added, “There are 4,000 Muslim pilgrims, meaning we would need 8,000 doses for them, while there are 170 Christian pilgrims, meaning we would need 340 doses for them, including their staff.
“We have a complaint from the Hajj and Christian commissions and Jerusalem and Saudi authorities have given an order that all those coming for pilgrimage and their staff must show evidence of COVID-19 test and vaccination (first and second doses).”
He said he would write to the Executive Director of NPHCDA to request for vaccines to be administered on the pilgrims.
Mohammed said there had only been 145 reactions – mostly mild – out of the tens of thousands vaccinated in the state so far, noting that the rule that sick persons should not be vaccinated had saved the state from controversies.
He added, “We have only 145 reactions due to COVID-19 vaccine and most of them are mild. Somebody went to our vaccination post in Darazo but unfortunately he was ill, so we told him that one of the conditions was that if you were sick we wouldn’t be able to give you a vaccine. The next day, he died. If we had allowed him to be vaccinated, people would say it was due to COVID-19 vaccination.”
He ruled out the possibility of the state going to look for a vaccine on its own, noting that it was best to use the one already certified by NAFDAC and that there was already a strategic plan for vaccination roll-out in the country.
Asked when the vaccination would resume, he said they had been told to start administering the second dose from May 24 because the vaccine would expire in June, since every batch has its expiry date.