The Guild of Medical Directors (GMD) has insisted that Nigeria would not be able to purchase the Pfizer or Moderna COVID- 19 vaccines, especially in very large quantities, due to their high cost. Prof. Olufemi Babalola, who told our correspondent that the Pfizer vaccine costs about $40 per single dose, also noted that its storage requirements to ensure effectiveness, may not be properly handled in the country given our peculiar situation especially with power supply.
Also questioning Nigeria’s ability to adequately store the vaccines and ensure they remain potent and viable for use, the President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa said with the epileptic power supplies in the country, achieving a -75 degrees Celsius required for the vaccines may be difficult to achieve.
While insisting that India’s AstraZeneca vaccine was most ideal for Nigeria and Africa’s peculiar situation in terms of affordability, storage and other important characteristics, Prof. Babalola advised African governments not to go for the Chinese or Russian vaccines even though they were cheaper. Speaking to our correspondent, he also noted that it was not necessary for Nigeria to embark on mass vaccination of its citizens as being witnessed in other climes, as some strata of persons could afford to be accommodated much later in the vaccination drive.
He noted that frontline workers and the elderly should be considered the top priority, while other strata can follow as more vaccines are made available in the country. He said: “The real question is which vaccine and how many can we afford and what are the priority areas because we are not like the United Kingdom or United States where they are planning to vaccinate everybody, it is not necessary to vaccinate everybody in Nigeria at the moment because we know where the disease is most prevalent; in the cities, amongst international travellers, most frontline health workers.
These are the priority areas government should be looking to vaccinate because people who live at the rural areas are not too badly affected with COVID-19 at the moment so we don’t necessarily have to roll out vaccination programmes on the same scale as the other countries are doing at the moment.
“Obviously the Pfizer vaccine is too expensive and the cold chain is too evolved, I don’t think we can actually manage that but if government can pay for a vaccine that costs about $40 for one vaccine, and they can protect everybody, good luck to them.” Prof Babalola added: “The whole of Africa are all waiting for some kind of help because we really can’t afford to pay for these vaccines the way they are at the moment.
“I heard somewhere they are thinking of getting Chinese vaccines which are probably cheaper I dont know how truthful it is, or the India version AstraZeneca vaccine. “The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are probably not likely to work in our situation but we can probably make moves for the ones we can pay for. We can go for the India’s AstraZeneca, I will prefer that to the Chinese or the Russian although those ones are much more affordable.”
Commenting on the non provision for COVID-19 vaccines in the 2021 budget recently presented by the Minister of Finance, he noted that government seems to be making frantic efforts to generate money for the vaccines purchase, as the price of vaccines was not known as at the time the budget was being drafted and processed. “I really don’t know how government funds their programmes but I am aware that they are trying to raise some money to buy vaccines.
The Minister of Finance went to the Senate the other day asking for N400bn. “My feeling is that it is not captured in the budget does not mean that they are not preparing to buy vaccines.
“The whole Coronavirus pandemic caught everybody unawares and by the time they were preparing the budget, nobody knew how much the vaccines were going to cost and all other things as we know them now so it is not surprising that they didn’t capture it in the budget, but I have the feeling they are doing something to pay for some vaccines.”
On his part, Dr. Uyilawa who expressed disappointment with the politics surrounding the purchase of vaccines in the country, said although it wasn’t captured in the 2021 budget, the federal government has ways of generating funds and was already making such moves to ensure vaccines were purchased to protect her citizens from effects of the dreaded virus.
“Nigerians have already made up their minds to buy the vaccines and buy the fridges where to store them also. There is so much politics being played on this COVID-19 vaccine and sincerely, this is a mission that has failed from the outset. “It wasn’t covered but there are ways to get funds to buy the vaccines because they know the importance of the vaccines to Nigerians and so there are other ways they can get money from to purchase the vaccines. Not beingcaptured in the budget does not mean there are no allocations for vaccines purchase,” the NARD President said.