The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, has flagged off a nationwide immunization campaign against COVID-19 with the introduction of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine at the National Hospital, Abuja.

Performing the flag-off, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, said with the arrival of the vaccines in the country, the government of Nigeria under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari is determined to win the fight against the disease.

He further said Nigeria and indeed the rest of the world has lost many lives to the pandemic. As such, Nigerians must work together, take the vaccines when their turn comes as the virus is no respecter of creed, tribe or any cleavages.

“The authorization and distribution of the vaccine have shown that humanity when working for a common goal and unity of purpose, can achieve a lot,” he said, adding, “This is more so because the virus spread across all countries and territories of the world with alarming speed. The world has recorded millions of fatalities and infections without discrimination based on sex, creed, tribe, language or status.”

He cautioned that vaccine hesitancy will negatively impact Nigerians’ lives and that no single individual is safe until everyone is vaccinated.

Mustapha also assured that the rollout, which begins with the frontline health workers as the first group of priority, is just the beginning of a well-articulated vaccination plan that would reach every eligible Nigerian at the appropriate time over 2021 and 2022 when the country hopes to have covered up to 70% of the population and achieved herd immunity.

He urged people to desist from taking the vaccine from unauthorized groups.

“Let me state categorically that vaccines are a very sensitive life-saving commodity and the only authorized source is the federal government that has signed indemnity with the manufacturers,” he said.

He appealed to Nigerians not to patronize fraudsters who are out to defraud, get rich, and in the end, endanger their lives.

He saluted the courage of the frontline workers, who, according to him, is our last line of defence.

Also speaking, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire said the vaccination exercise would take place in phases, with each phase targeting a specific category of eligible Nigerians, adding that frontline health workers are prioritized globally for vaccination against COVID-19 due to their higher exposure to infection.

He said the next target group is the group of the elderly who are vulnerable and defined by pre-existing condition of obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney, respiratory, cardiovascular and other diseases as identified by their doctors.

Dr. Enahire further explained that those under the age of 18 and pregnant women were exempted until they were certified fit to take the vaccine because there is no scientific assessment yet of the safety for this category of persons.

He said the relevant authorities have taken steps to ensure vaccine safety and accountability and warned against underhand deals and crookedness in the exercise.

On his part, the Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib appreciated the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and other stakeholders for their efforts in the fight against COVID-19.

He said the vaccination of four frontline workers at the flag-off symbolized what they have been saying for the last few weeks from the PTF on COVID-19 to those who have sacrificed their lives in the last one year in making sure that those of us who contracted the disease are treated in a humane way and in the best medical practice.

Dr. Faisal further said there was a delay in the arrival of the vaccine because the agency worked assiduously and ensured that the vaccines that came in and would be coming in the days ahead are safe, productive and potent and therefore, certified by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.

Speaking on behalf of partners and donours, Country Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Walter Kazadi Molumbo saluted the government of Nigeria’s efforts for prioritizing the health of its citizens and called for unity of purpose in the security and accountability during the exercise.

Earlier, the Host and  Minister of the FCT, Malam Muhammad Bello, expressed happiness and declared that FCTA had designated 65 vaccination points in the 6 Area Councils.