In a message to the 5th annual conference of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, GOCOP, in Lagos on 7th October, 2021, members of the audience were surprised when the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha confidently dispelled claims that the Nigerian government did not have enough vaccines to go round, in spite of its threat and those from some State governors that unvaccinated persons will soon not have access to government facilities.
The question that had been on almost everyone’s lips was how did the various governments intend to carry out their threat when the information in public domain was that only a few million vaccines have been allocated and delivered to Nigeria?
Boss Mustapha, who is the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said at the Lagos conference that every eligible person should go out and get vaccinated, and he asked media partners to use the power in their articles of trade, the words that they write or speak, the cartoons and memes, to intensify public enlightenment on vaccination.
And he declared: “On the part of the Federal Government, I want to assure Nigerians that we have enough vaccines, and we are expecting more”.
Many of us in the audience were asking ourselves, “Really? From where?”
The answer was provided the following week when the US embassy in Abuja announced the arrival of 3,577,860 doses of Pfizer vaccine for the public health and benefit of the Nigerian people through COVAX, the worldwide initiative ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The US shipment arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on October 14.
According to the embassy, the shipment brought the total number of US bilaterally donated doses to Nigeria to over 7.5 million. The US also contributed to the first multilateral donation of AstraZeneca vaccine in March 2021. Overall, COVAX has provided Nigeria with over 10 million doses to date.
The embassy noted that safe and effective vaccines were the best tool to ending the pandemic and the United States had pledged to purchase and donate 1.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide, and to date had delivered more than 180 million doses to more than 100 countries.
The US government’s continued efforts to provide vaccines to African Union (AU) member countries, says the embassy, helps fulfill President Joe Biden’s pledge when he said: “The United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic.”
These vaccine donations are therefore seen as a part of the US government’s continued partnership with the Government of Nigeria in combatting COVID-19.
The American mission disclosed that to date, the US government had provided $130 million of support to Nigeria’s Ministry of Health and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, and the Biden government is looking forward to continued coordination with Nigeria and its Center for Disease Control to deliver life-saving doses across the country through the COVAX, a global vaccine initiative managed by CEPI, Gavi, WHO and UNICEF.
Recall too, that France had also been partnering with African partners to deliver 10 million vaccines to the continent.
Under this initiative, African Union Member States will receive an additional 10 million doses of Astra Zeneca and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines through a new partnership between the French government and the African Union. The vaccines will be allocated and distributed by the initiative known as the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and the COVAX global vaccine initiative.
The AVAT initiative was set up as a pooled procurement mechanism for the African Union Member States to be able to buy enough vaccines for at least 50% of their needs. AVAT works closely with the COVAX initiative, which seeks to provide the other 50% through donations. AVAT is managed on behalf of the African Union Member States by an alliance of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), as well as the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), which also provides the funding for the acquisition of vaccines. AVAT has already acquired enough vaccines for African countries to vaccinate 400 million people, or one-third of the African population, by September next year, at a cost of $3 billion, supported by an innovative partnership with the World Bank.
President Macron of France is said to be a powerful advocate in support of Africa’s need to have equitable access to vaccines and he was the first leader to welcome and acknowledge the efforts of the African Union Member States to build institutions like AVAT.
He has met several times with the African Union’s leadership and has also travelled to South Africa where the French development agency Proparco is helping to expand Africa’s largest vaccine manufacturing facility. France will also contribute to the WHO supported Hub, which will enable mRNA vaccines technology transfer to the African continent.
The French government has also been a strong advocate of vaccine sharing in the fight against COVID-19 in order to accelerate global vaccination rates and ensure equitable access to safe and efficacious immunization against COVID-19. In April of this year, France became the first country to share doses with COVAX. Through its new partnership with AVAT, the French government is expected to add to these efforts and advance its commitment of sharing at least 60 million doses before the end of 2021.
As President Macron puts it, “The solution to the pandemic will only come from strong cooperation, between multilateral, regional and national actors. Based on our solid partnership with the African Union, I want us to build together on the expertise and the political legitimacy of African leaders. Thus 10 million doses of Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines will be donated by the French people to the African Union, who will decide on their allocation, in coordination with COVAX. This demonstrates my will, as President of France, to stand shoulder to shoulder with African people and face the pandemic together.”
While these countries and international agencies are putting initiatives together to assist Africa and Nigeria in particular, the onus is on Federal and State governments to ensure that adopted policies encourage the citizens to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The conspiracy theories and their propagators are still very actively working to convince people not to be vaccinated.
Is forced vaccination the solution? Or are there other ways that can make the people accept the vaccination just as was done with previous exercises against polio, smallpox and other diseases in the past? There is still much work to be done.
IMAGE CREDIT: US Embassy Abuja
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist, writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.