As we observed in the first part of this piece, the tweet by Dr. Faisal Shuaibu ED/CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) on the arrival of the COVAX Facility-delivered vaccine and its exciting reception ceremony and press briefing, evoked further excitements as well as criticisms from Nigerians. On the excitement side, shortly after Dr. Shuaibu’s tweet, an excited citizen tweeted: “We @AbujaFhis want to identify with @NphcdaNG, @NCDCgov, @Fmohnigeria, #PTFCOVID19 and all stakeholders for this milestone step in the fight against Covid 19.” Then a critic asked “was the reception ceremony of any use?” Another critic replied “Bros you no understand the celebration. It’s time to cash out. Do you know how many millionaires that’ll start calling in to buy the vaccines for their families and perhaps staff at any price? Abegi make dem celebrate. Free money don land.” Apart from critics in the social media, there were many others who used the mainstream media to take exception to the airport ceremonies and press briefing.
But as we argued earlier, the euphoria over the arrival of the vaccine is understandably in order. Even as we write, former President Donald Trump of the United States of America, who was undoubtedly the number one global worst manager of COVID-19 as well as its virulent sceptic, encouraged millions of his Republican Party supporters to take the vaccine, which according to him is good. His appeal was against the news that many Republicans said that they would not the vaccine. Some have even gone to the extent of burning their face masks and involving their young children who know nothing about politics.
However, a point that one of the critics made which should not be over-looked is the perception of the motive behind the euphoria. The perception that some officials would become millionaires out of the vaccine business mirrors the thinking of many Nigerians about the prevailing systemic and pervasive corruption in the land, a perception that erodes trust in governance. As we pointed out in the past, public trust in governance is close to zero. This is a big challenge as those in government need to go extra mile to demonstrate their integrity by being more transparent and accountable in the discharge of their duties. With respect to the administration of the vaccine for instance, they can do so by constantly informing Nigerians on the number of doses administered in accordance with their adopted plan. Nigerians want to see the transparency in the whole process of vaccine distribution and administration.
But going further beyond the vaccine euphoria and its critics, there are some other issues that need to be examined. First, the issue of too much official emphasis on and reaction to, the problem of vaccine hesitancy on the part of some citizens is a misplaced one for now. We do not have enough supply of the vaccine yet, and some officials were busy making statements that suggest that receiving the vaccine right NOW is mandatory. Do we have enough quantity to reach those who desperately need to have actually have it NOW (like the frontline workers)? One state governor for instance threatened some days ago that “no vaccination, no attendance to the Executive Council meeting”. This kind of statement will compel powerful politicians and other people of means to start looking for the vaccine desperately. Some may even grab whatever is available thereby denying those who are most at risk, from receiving inoculation.
There is no doubt that intensified risk communication messages to the citizens on the importance of taking the vaccine (in line with the laid down plan for administering it to the various categories of citizens) is absolutely necessary and should be continued. However, beyond this, no mention should be made of mandatory inoculation now to avoid the mad rush by people in search of the vaccines. As one Igbo proverb says; no one will tell a deaf man in the market that there is danger and that he should run for safety because he would actually see people running away even when he is not hearing what they are saying or seeing why they are running. Incidentally, Federal Government officials have even said that without vaccination future international travelers may not be able to embark on such. This message is enough threat to make vaccine sceptics to rethink, particularly those intending to go for religious activities. And like the Yellow Fever Vaccine, at a time in the future, no kobo would be spent telling people in this category of the need to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
A second substantive issue worth looking at relates to vaccine distribution among the states. There is evidence now that there is to a greater degree distributional equity in the numbers given to the various states. This is against the background of the earlier figures released before the arrival of the vaccine. Under this Phase 1 Rollout Plan which targets frontline and essential personnel, the allocation to Lagos (507,000), FCT (219,800 and Kano (209,520) all making up 936,320 vaccines representing 23% is in order, particularly for Lagos and FCT that have the highest number of COVID-19 cases and even deaths. Apart from few states that received more out of the proportion of their contributions to the confirmed cases, there appears to be distributional equity and this should be maintained in the subsequent phases of the vaccine distribution.
The third issue relates to the generosity of vaccine donors. That vaccines are not cheap is a message which vaccine sceptics do not even recognise. Many vaccine critics do not recognise the enormous sacrifice made by some very thoughtful individuals, countries, and donors in making vaccines available to real poor countries and to the richly endowed but poorly governed countries like ours. It is important to say few things about vaccine donors.
There are generous donors that make the COVAX Facility-delivered vaccines reach the poor countries of the world and a knowledge of which can make vaccine critics soften their minds. Most of these donations indirectly come from hard earned incomes of tax payers in the developed world and some other countries.
According to COVAX Facility, these donors include governments, foundations, the European Commission, countries of the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. From the list of vaccine donors, there are 15 countries under the Donor Governments category that include such other countries as Australia, Bhutan, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Monaco, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Switzerland. Secondly, there are 16 Donors under Team Europe category. Thirdly, there are also 12 Donors under the category of Foundations, Corporations and Organizations. In addition to all these donors focused on vaccine purchases, some countries notably Canada, Germany and the United States, have also made generous donations towards vaccine delivery and/or logistics, and for some as far as into 2021 and 2022 (See https://www.afro.who.int/news/covid-19-vaccines-shipped-covax-arrive-nigeria).
Again, according to COVAX, these partners have been especially active in working with some of the world’s poorest countries: those that will benefit from the Advance Market Commitment (AMC), an innovative financial mechanism to help secure global and equitable access for COVID-19 vaccines. This includes assisting with the development of national vaccination plans, support for cold chain infrastructure, as well as stockpiling of half a billion syringes and safety boxes for their disposal, masks, gloves and other equipment to ensure that there is enough equipment for health workers to start vaccinating priority groups as soon as possible. (See https://www.afro.who.int/news/covid-19-vaccines-shipped-covax-arrive-nigeria).
As we said earlier, vaccines do not come cheap and this is why the deliveries to Nigeria should be handled with the utmost level of transparency and care.
Finally, the controversy surrounding the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine (or even any other COVID-19 vaccine) is not unexpected as these vaccines were produced for emergency use. Nigeria needs to follow science rather than politics and so far it has creditably done so. What this means is that if the conditions that warranted the suspension of the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine in some European countries were proved to be true, the Federal Government should have no choice but to suspend its administration to Nigerians, (regardless of the euphoria over its arrival). However, we pray and hope that it does not come to that. In any case, this does not in any way mean victory for the vaccine sceptics or its army of critics.
•Prof. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: email@example.com.