Despite a mounting list of countries in Africa and Europe that have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due rare cases of blood clots, the Nigerian government is backing the jab — which is currently the most widely-used COVID-19 vaccine worldwide.
In a statement on April 16, Dr. Faisal Shuaibu, who leads the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), announced that the government is moving up its timeline for administering the second dose of the jab to factor in global supply challenges, as well as its capacity to get more vaccines and deliver on its COVID-19 response plan to vaccinate 70% of the country in the next two years.
“We anticipate a delay in vaccine supply to Nigeria. The government has, therefore, decided to rationalise by preserving 50% of available doses of the vaccine for administration as second doses,” Shuaibu said at a town hall meeting, on Tuesday.
For most Nigerians, this means that it might take longer than expected to end the COVID-19 pandemic in the country while it reels from the impact of the pandemic on health, security, education, and social welfare.
“Since the first case was confirmed in Lagos on Feb. 27 2020, COVID-19 has taken [more than] 2,060 Nigerian lives and continued to strain our economy. Our GDP has fallen by 23% due to the downturn in economic activities, both inside Nigeria and with our international trading partners,” said Osagie Enahire, Nigeria’s minister of health, on Tuesday.
The situation is much the same across the continent with at least 36 countries relying on vaccines from COVAX, a global vaccine distribution initiative that aims to supply 2 billion vaccine doses this year to low- and middle-income countries, including 600 million doses to Africa — enough to cover 20% of the population.
According to Shuaibu, Nigeria has not reported any cases of blood clots since it began its COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
In a joint press conference held with WHO Nigeria last week, Shuaibu said: “The World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly recommends the continued use of AstraZeneca for all age groups, and its top scientists advocate for its safety. The calculated benefits far outweigh the risks.”
The NPHCDA is the only government agency responsible for the distribution of COVID-19 jabs, which Nigeria has so far only been able to acquire through donations and COVAX, which is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, along with the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI).
Africa lags behind the rest of the world on vaccine rollout and accounts for less than 2% of all COVID-19 vaccines administered worldwide.
John Nkengasong, who heads the Africa Center for Disease Control (CDC), told the BBC that the continent will require further assistance to “get the pandemic out" of the continent.
Nigeria has seen the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in Africa, with more than 164,000 confirmed cases and over 2,000 deaths. So far, less than 1% of Nigerians (1,101,000 out of 200 million) have received the first dose of the jab.