COVID-19 Vaccine euphoria in Nigeria and its critics (1), By Isaac N. Obasi




Euphoria over the discovery, approval, distribution and administration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is a worldwide phenomenon and not limited to specific countries in the Southern Hemisphere like Nigeria. And this is perfectly understandable as the ingenious discovery of COVID-19 vaccine itself is a great miracle even in the medical circles and not only to the laymen. This column salutes all the scientists who worked so tirelessly to miraculously invent the COVID-19 vaccines that are presently being distributed and administered all over the world. And above all, we give God the eternal glory for giving man the wonderful opportunity to continue fulfilling His injunction at creation to conquer and dominate the Earth. 

Arrival of the first batch of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria on March 2, 2021

Why would anyone in the first place not be euphoric over the discovery and the eventual administration of a vaccine when over two million deaths (precisely 2,621,986) have been lost globally to the pandemic (as of Thursday, March 11, 2021, at 12:25pm)? (See https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html). Why would anyone in Nigeria not be over excited with the arrival of a vaccine when the total number of confirmed cases is 159,646 with nearly 2,000 (precisely1,993) deaths lost to the virus (as of Thursday, 11, March, 2021, at 1.09pm? (See https://covid19.ncdc.gov.ng/). As we write, Brazilian hospitals are overwhelmed with a daily fatality for Tuesday reaching a record high of nearly 2,000 (i.e. 1,972 deaths). As France24 report put it on March 10, 2021: “Brazil is facing a dire situation with intensive care units with more than 80 percent occupied in 25 of Brazil’s 27 capital cities” (See https://www.france24.com/en/americas/20210310-hospitals-overwhelmed-as-brazil-reaches-new-daily-covid-19-death-record). Is it because Nigeria was lucky to escape this magnitude of deaths that we should not celebrate the arrival of a vaccine?  So the euphoria over the arrival of vaccine in Nigeria is justifiable or can be seen from this perspective of enormous loss of lives.  

In actual fact, Nigeria’s euphoria over the expected arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine started long before its arrival with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF on COVID-19) making the vaccine issue a major one (and rightly too) during its national briefing in the last few months. The PTF rightly also reminded Nigerians that the arrival of the vaccine is not the end of the pandemic as we still need to be vigilant by obeying the COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines. The chairman of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, was never tired of giving out this reminder or if you like call it an appropriate and timely warning.

When the nearly four million (3.94 precisely) doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines shipped by COVAX eventually arrived, there was palpable excitement in the air. The COVAX facility that shipped the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII) was and still working in partnership with CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO – the organisations that made the free vaccines possible for developing countries like Nigeria to have the vaccines. This column appreciates them all.

Furthermore, the local and international media made the arrival an exciting event more so when all relevant Federal Government officials and agencies showed a high level euphoria. To be fair and frank, the euphoria of a vaccine arriving in Nigeria was all over the world. Aljazeera for example described it as a “fantastic step forward” noting that “Nigeria was the third country in Africa to get the shots through COVAX, a global scheme formed to ensure fair access to inoculations for low-and middle-income states”. And again, an excited Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted: “Congratulations to #Nigeria and our #COVAX partners on making the third delivery of #COVID19 vaccines in Africa”. 

Then WHO Regional Office (WHO Africa) excitedly announced the arrival, saying “the arrival marked a historic step towards the goal to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history” (See

https://www.afro.who.int/news/covid-19-vaccines-shipped-covax-arrive-nigeria. In the same vein, Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director for Country Programmes at Gavi, (the Vaccine Alliance) said “this is a landmark moment for the country and the COVAX Facility’s mission to help end the acute phase of the pandemic by enabling equitable access to these vaccines across the world. We are glad to see Nigeria is amongst the first receiving the doses from COVAX, thanks to the excellent level of preparedness put in place by the Government of Nigeria”. He added  that “Gavi looks forward to these vaccines being made available to the people most at risk, as soon as possible, and to ensuring that routine immunization services for other life-threatening infections are also delivered to avoid other disease outbreaks” (See same source above).

Coming nearer home, the chairman of PTF on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha must be one of the fulfilled government officials overseeing this project. This is simply because the Federal Government’s promise to get the vaccines eventually materialised without any disturbing issues. In the same manner of excitement therefore he said “the successful development of vaccines and the accelerated process for emergency authorisation has brought hope to humanity all over the world”. And according to him, “the government aims to start by vaccinating frontline healthcare workers, the highest-priority recipients, in Abuja on March 5, followed by strategic leaders on March 8.” Lastly, he said that “the government expected to receive 84 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from COVAX this year, enough to inoculate 20% of the population” (See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-nigeria-vaccines-idUSKBN2AU125). 

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, could also not hide his excitement when he said that “it is a feeling of relief and elation that at last we are joining the community of nations who can vaccinate their citizens against COVID-19 disease which has been raging across the world. We have to some extent lagged but are relieved that we can now start vaccinating our citizens” (See https://www.afro.who.int/news/public-health-experts-elated-covid-19-vaccine-delivery-assure-nigerians-vaccine-effectiveness).  

The ED/CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) expressed his own excitement through a tweet. At exactly 4.45pm Dr. Faisal Shuaibu announced through his official twitter handle that: “Today, we had a reception ceremony – an activity that allowed a multi-sectoral delegation to inspect and receive the vaccines at the airport. This was followed with a press briefing. This is a key part of our commitment to the Nigerian people to ensure full transparency, as we distribute and introduce safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines”. This tweet evoked further excitements and even criticisms from vaccine critics. Critics wondered why there should be a reception ceremony and also a press briefing. The reactions generated by Dr. Faisal Shuaibu’s tweet particularly the concomitant criticisms it generated among vaccine skeptics would be among the focus of the next installment of this article. 

Prof. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: nnamdizik@gmail.com.  

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