As the Nigerian government gives its component states a condition to halt new COVID-19 vaccinations, only about 50 per cent of 'eligible' Nigerians have been vaccinated, an official said. Those vaccinated are, however, less than one per cent of the country's estimated 200 million population.
The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Faisal Shuaib, said on Friday that only about half of the 'eligible' Nigerians have been vaccinated with the Oxford- AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Mr Shuaib, while speaking at a press briefing, said the number represents 1,071,346 people considered eligible to receive jabs of the vaccine.
"As of today, April 16, 1,071,346 representing 53.2 per cent of the eligible persons targeted with the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered their first dose in this vaccination phase," he said.
"These are the people who have their information already uploaded on our database, while others are awaiting upload, potentially due to network problems and the high traffic of those coming in to take their shots at the same time."
Having received 3.94 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines in early March, Nigeria commenced vaccination beginning with healthcare workers who are often at the risk of exposure to infections being the first responders to patients.
The 3.94 million doses is part of an overall 16 million doses planned to be delivered to Nigeria in batches over the next months through COVAX, a UN-backed effort that promises access to free vaccines for up to 20 per cent of participating countries' population.
Nigeria on March 21 received another 300,000 doses of the same vaccine from telecom giant, MTN. On Tuesday, April 6, the government of India also delivered 100,000 doses of Covishield COVID-19 vaccines to Nigeria.
The COVISHIELD is a brand of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
To achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, Nigeria had set an ambitious goal of vaccinating 40 per cent of its over 200 million population before the end of 2021, and 70 per cent by the end of 2022.
Health authorities said only eligible population from 18 years and above will be vaccinated in four phases.
According to Nigeria's plan, the vaccine roll-out will be in four phases, starting with "health workers, frontline workers, COVID-19 rapid response team, laboratory network, policemen, petrol station workers and strategic leaders."
"Phase 2 – Older adults aged 50 years and above. Those with co-morbidities aged 18 – 49 years of age.
"Phase 3 – Those in states/LGAs with high disease burden and who missed phases 1 and 2.
"Phase 4 – Other eligible population as vaccines become available."
Mr Faisal, however, said inoculation of frontline health workers in some states is completed, and attention has shifted to older adults, aged 65 and above.
"We have been careful to ensure that only those who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the current phase are being vaccinated.
"These include health workers and their support staff, other frontline workers, strategic leaders and in the last few days, we have also included those who meet the age requirements," he said.
Meeting its targetA check by this newspaper shows that less than a million people received their first dose of the vaccine exactly one month after the country commenced vaccination, indicating a slow start to the process.
Going by the current pace of vaccination, less than nine million people would have been vaccinated in Nigeria by the end of 2021. The figure is less than 40 per cent of Nigeria's population that was targeted by the end of this year.
Health analysts say they expected a rush in the first phase of the rollout considering that the priority groups – health workers and other frontliners – can easily be located.
With only about 4.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines available to the country, Nigeria is still far from having enough vaccines to meet its target.
Due to limited doses of vaccine availability, the Nigerian government recently directed states to halt new vaccination once they use half of the doses allocated to them.
The Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora, said the directive became necessary since the country was not sure when the next batch of AstraZeneca vaccines would arrive in the country.
"We believe that in a situation where we still cannot specifically determine when the next batch of AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive, then I think wisdom only dictates that it is better for us to vaccinate people fully," Mr Mamora said in Abuja penultimate Tuesday.
"And so that we can say that we have a pool of citizens that have been fully vaccinated since this vaccination comes in two doses."
Mr Shuaib said there is a global shortfall of production of COVID-19 vaccines largely due to the manufacturers not meeting their projected targets.
"These developments have now necessitated that we reassess our vaccine supply forecasts and take the decision to ensure that everyone who has taken the vaccine in the current phase gets the second dose before the next consignment is delivered to Nigeria," he said.