Emma Okonji, Nosa Alekhuogie in Lagos and Alex Enumah in Abuja
Ahead of the commencement of COVID-19 vaccination, the federal government yesterday assured Nigerians that it won’t make it mandatory for them to take the vaccine.
Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora, while fielding questions when he appeared on The Morning Show, the flagship breakfast programme on ARISE NEWS Channels, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, said inasmuch as the federal government was desirous of combating the pandemic, it would not tamper with people’s rights to accept or reject being vaccinated.
Nigeria on Tuesday had taken delivery of 3.94 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as part of efforts to vaccinate 70 per cent of the population between 2021 and 2022.
Preparatory to the vaccination, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) in a Tweet on Monday, had announced the launch of an online portal where people could register for the vaccination.
Already, President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha and other prominent Nigerians have been pencilled in to be vaccinated on Saturday.
Buhari and others’ vaccination, which will be beamed live on television, will herald the launch of the vaccination campaign and is targeted at assuring Nigerians on the safety of the vaccine.
Mamora said: “Nothing will be made compulsory; it is optional, nobody will be forced to take any vaccine. Nobody will be compelled to take the vaccine because it is a thing of choice.”
However, he said notwithstanding the federal government’s resolve not to compel anybody to take the vaccination, it would be necessary for Nigerians to get the COVID-19 vaccine immunisation since most countries might in the future pass a law that only those immunised with COVID-19 vaccine would be eligible to enter their countries.
“If that happens, it will not be a decision of Nigeria. You may get to a situation where countries may in the future pass a law that only those immunised with COVID vaccine will be eligible to have travel access into their countries. It is like the yellow card and some countries will not allow you to enter their country if you do not have a yellow card.
“Countries have the right to pass a law restricting people without COVID-19 vaccine from entering their domains in order to curb the spread of the virus, and if it becomes a global law, then those who have the need to travel will be compelled to get immunised or face restriction,” Mamora added.
On the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, Mamora said there were parameters put in place for the proper distribution of the first dose of 3.9 million doses of the vaccine, which would begin with the states.
According to him, the rollout plan is for front healthcare workers, strategic leadership, the elderly and those with identified ailment to be the first to be vaccinated.
He stated that in each state, the lead agency, which is the NPHCDA, has identified those that constitute strategic leadership in the states and those that are frontline healthcare workers, adding that these are the people that will first receive the vaccine.
Speaking earlier on the breakfast programme, a clinical physician and virologist, Prof. Abdusalam Nasidi, had said the federal government must maintain equitable distribution and high-quality assurance of the vaccine in order to ensure that the first batch reached targeted Nigerians in the first instance.
Nasidi stressed the need for equitable distribution and immunisation of the first dose of the vaccine.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak had caused serious health challenges for Nigeria and any opportunity to address the problem should be welcomed.
He added that with the arrival of the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday, Nigeria has joined the comity of nations that have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Nasidi said: “Government must ensure that quality assurance is put in place by keeping the vaccines in good condition, while moving them from the central storage point to the zonal storage stores and to the state stores before finally getting to the primary healthcare centres. The reason for high quality assurance is to ensure that the vaccines remain good and safe by the time they finally reach the primary health centres. So there must be a mechanism that will ensure quality assurance.
“It is easy to start celebrating that the vaccine has arrived, but the implementation process in the distribution and immunisation of the vaccine is key.
“In 1960, Nigeria excelled in the mass immunisation against smallpox pandemic and I expect the government to tap into that same experience in the distribution and immunisation against smallpox vaccine and do same for COVID-19 vaccine. So I will suggest that the federal government take advantage of our storage capacity to safely handle the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine.”
Another challenge, which he said must be addressed, is how to convince Nigerians to believe in the federal government and accept to be immunised with the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to him, many Nigerians, including some state governors, do not believe in the COVID-19 vaccine.
He suggested mass training of healthcare workers in order to achieve careful handling of the vaccine.
He said the four million doses of vaccine, “if given in two doses per person as recommended by the manufacturers would only serve two million Nigerians,” which he said, would mean that about 1.9 per cent of total Nigeria’s population, would receive the first batch of four million doses.
He, however, stated that Nigeria could immunise four million Nigerians in a single dose and wait for another 12 weeks to administer the second dose, when the second batch of vaccine arrives in the country.
He urged the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, to decide how best to administer the first batch of four million vaccines.
He said the federal government must involve the state governments, private sectors, traditional and religious leaders in sensitising Nigerians for the distribution and immunisation of the vaccine.