The World Health Organisation (WHO) has debunked the rumour going around that it has disqualified Nigeria from accessing the Pfizer led COVID-19 vaccine. WHO said it has not disqualified any country in Africa from accessing COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, but rather it’s supporting all countries to access vaccines as quickly as possible to tackle the challenges of the pandemic.

The representative of WHO in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulomboo who was speaking at a joint press conference with the National Primary Health Development Agency (NPHCDA) said currently, all countries on the continent are expected to start accessing the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines by the end of February.

“The vaccine is under review by WHO for Emergency Use Listing and the outcome is expected soon. Of the 88 million AstraZeneca doses allocated to African countries for the first phase, Nigeria has received by far the largest allocation, with 16 million doses.

“In addition to the Astra Zeneca doses, there is an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine available through COVAX. Demand for the initial allocation of 1.2 million Pfizer doses was exceptionally high. COVAX received interest from 72 countries around the world, of which 51 countries were considered by the review committee as “ready” (Nigeria was among these countries) and 18 countries in total were finally chosen to receive initial Pfizer doses.”

Dr. Walter said on the Africa continent, as of the 18 January deadline, COVAX received 13 submissions and a multi-agency committee evaluated the proposals of which 9 were recommended as ready to deploy the Pfizer vaccine including Nigeria while also saying, unfortunately, it was not feasible to provide each of these 51 countries with Pfizer doses, due to several factors including the limited capacity for Pfizer to handle many countries at once.

“Therefore, spreading the limited doses across all the 51 countries deemed ‘ready’ could have not achieved the intended public health benefit. After epidemiological data were considered, the decision was taken to proportionally balance the number of self-financing and AMC Participants, as well as Participants across all 6 WHO regions.”

The Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib while speaking at the emergency press briefing said, there are several factors that were considered in allocating the small quantity of the 320,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to COVAX countries.

He listed the factors to include the mortality rates from COVID-19, the number of new cases, the trend in the number of cases, the population of countries and the availability of the appropriate Cold Chain equipment adding that countries such as South Africa which received the Pfizer allocation have the new strain of the COVID-19 virus, has the highest mortality rates and is struggling to contain transmission.

He further said giving smaller countries such as Cape Verde and Rwanda few doses of the Pfizer vaccine would have a larger public health impact considering their population size.

“100,000 doses to Nigeria, we have all agreed would have been a drop in the ocean. So, it is a welcome development that we are receiving 16million doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine to replace the Pfizer vaccine in the same month of February.

“The 16million doses will invariably help us reach more of our population and is suited to our existing cold chain system.”