The Federal Government will purchase Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for Nigerians because of the availability of facility needed for its storage, Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said at the weekend.
According to him, the vaccine can be stored in a facility with temperature +2 to +8 degree celsius for a long period without it losing potency.
With the decision, less emphasis will be paid to Pfizer’s BioNTech vaccine because the country lacks enough space to keep the drug at + 2 to + 8 temperature not more than five days before use.
He explained that the delivery of the 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccines will now be next month because of supply and manufacturing hitches according to information from the COVAX facility.
Dr. Shuaib, who spoke during a television interview, said: “The AstraZeneca type Oxford vaccines are the ones that we want to invest in because we already have the infrastructure across the country to be able to store the vaccines.
“In Nigeria, as I speak, almost every single political ward has one freezer that can keep these vaccines at the right temperature.
“Only about 700 political wards do not have this type of equipment, and we are hopeful that if we keep installing them at the pace that we want to, hopefully by the end of this year, we will be able to finish installing, so that in every single political ward, we have the right equipment to be able to store our routine immunisation vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines at + 2 to +8 degree Celsius.”
The NPHCDA added that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) would assess and certify the vaccine to ensure that it is safe.
“At this point, we have information from the COVAX facility that Nigeria will be getting up to 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccines in February. But ahead of those shipments, we have already made sure that the ultra-chain equipment that is required to keep these vaccines in temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius are available in-country.
“We are also working with the sub-national levels to make sure that when these vaccines are transported to the states and council areas, we will be able to make sure that the transportation takes place in a way that ensures that the vaccines remain and retain their potency.
“The information that we are getting from COVAX facility is that the first 100,000 doses will be coming by February. Initially they had mentioned that it was going to be in January, but just yesterday(Sunday), we got information that due to supply and manufacturing issues, they will not be able to meet the January date that was originally communicated.
“Now, it is looking more like it is in February that will get about 100,000 doses, and then subsequently, we will get larger doses of the vaccine..
“We have made all the preparations to ensure that when the vaccines arrive, NAFDAC is able to access them and certified that they are safe.
“For us, this is the paramount consideration and no vaccine will be administered to Nigerians until and unless NAFDAC goes through the process of making sure that all of the documentation is right and it is contextualised within the Nigerian environment.
“Then we will roll out all of the activities that are required to make sure that we prioritise those that are most at risk and those that are most vulnerable to COVID-19..
“Right now, what we have done is to identify health facilities across the states and council areas , particularly primary healthcare centres where we will be delivering these vaccines.
“From the national level to the sub-national levels, as long as you are able to keep the vaccines with dry ice, then it will be able to maintain the -70 degree Celsius.
“When you get to the sub-national levels, you have to keep the vaccines in a temperature of + 2 to + 8 for the Pfizer vaccines for a period of five days.
“However, what we are getting is just 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and it is just like a drop in the ocean when it comes to our requirements in Nigeria.”
Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees. It has been modified to look more like coronavirus – although it cannot cause illness.
When the vaccine is injected into a patient, it prompts the immune system to start making antibodies and primes it to attack any coronavirus infection.
Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine – which has to be kept at an extremely cold temperature (-70 degree Celsius), the Oxford vaccine can be stored in a normal fridge. This makes it easier to distribute.
The vaccine was approved for use by UK’s medicines regulator – the MHRA on December 30, last year. The MHRA approved the use of two full doses, which was found to be 62 per cent effective.