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02.03.2021 Nigeria

Nigeria takes delivery of millions of free Covax jabs

By Louise DEWAST
The newly arrived doses are the first of 16 million jabs that Covax plans to deliver over the coming months to the country of 200 million people.  By Kola Sulaimon (AFP)
LISTEN MAR 2, 2021
The newly arrived doses are the first of 16 million jabs that Covax plans to deliver over the coming months to the country of 200 million people. By Kola Sulaimon (AFP)

Nearly four million coronavirus jabs arrived in Nigeria on Tuesday, making Africa's most populous nation the latest country to receive vaccines from Covax, a global scheme to provide free inoculations.

A flight carrying 3.94 million AstraZeneca doses arrived shortly before noon at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in the capital Abuja.

Richer countries have surged ahead with vaccinations but many poorer countries are still awaiting deliveries, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that the crisis cannot end unless everyone can inoculate their populations.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was among those hailing the arrival, writing on Twitter: "We must ACTogether to supply vaccines to all countries in the first 100 days of 2021."

The batch of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines, made by the Serum Institute of India, are the first of 16 million jabs that Covax plans to deliver over the coming months to the country of 200 million people.

"Today is a good day for Nigeria," Faisal Shuaib, director of the primary healthcare agency, said in a statement. "Our team is ready to start administering doses to frontline health workers."

Government official Boss Mustapha urged traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil society groups and the media to spread the message that vaccinations were needed, adding: "This is a fight for everyone."

Tricky transport

Nigeria's food and drug control agency approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use last month and vaccinations are scheduled to start on Friday.

Frontline workers and support staff are the first in line, followed by the president and vice president on Saturday, a government spokesman Garba Shehu told AFP.

The government said it hoped to vaccinate at least 70 percent of its adult population over the next two years, and health officials said more than two million people had already registered for the jab online.

"As the vaccines arrive in batches due to limited supply we will inform Nigerians about who and where to receive the vaccine," Shuaib told reporters Monday.

The agency launched a self-registration portal online to try to ease the rollout but the country faces immense security and logistics challenges.

"States without a functional airport will have their vaccines transported by road using vans with fitted cold cabins, from the nearest airport," Shuaib said.

The West African country has recorded 156,017 cases and 1,915 deaths since the start of the pandemic, though the figures are considered undercounted given the low number of tests administered.

A new virus variant has also been discovered in Nigeria, but researchers have not yet determined if it is more contagious or deadly than the original strain.

Last week, Ghana and Ivory Coast were the first African countries to receive vaccines from Covax, an initiative led by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) with UNICEF as implementing partner.

Some 237 million doses of AstraZeneca are to be delivered by the end of May to 142 participating economies, Covax says.

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