Nigeria’s COVID Vaccine Drive Gets a Boost as African Leaders Push 70% Vaccination Target
On 24 February 2021, a plane carrying the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility landed at Kotoka International Airport in Accra.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa via COVAX, the continent’s leading vaccine advocates have pledged not to accept anything less vaccinating 70% of Africans against the virus by mid-year – a tall order given that only around 10% have been vaccinated.

However, to assist in reaching this target, the US on Tuesday announced new funding for the vaccination drive in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the ‘Ports to Arms’ summit being held in Nigeria that while COVAX only has enough vaccines to cover 45% of the continent, other sources including the African Vaccine Acquisition Team (AVAT) will “provide the means for countries to reach the global target of 70% by mid-2022”.

“We must now turn our attention to addressing the crucial question of how we turn vaccines into vaccinations – or how we get vaccines from ports to arms,” said Tedros, adding that health workers, older adults, and those with underlying medical conditions, must remain the urgent and immediate focus.

Support for TRIPS waiver

Tedros reiterated WHO support for the proposal from South Africa and India for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights under the TRIPS agreement for the duration of the pandemic in order to reach the 70% target.

“Achieving the 70% target in all countries is essential for ending the pandemic as a global health emergency and driving a truly inclusive global recovery. It will also help prevent the emergence of new variants, which could be more severe or transmissible next time around,” said Tedros.

To help achieve this target, the WHO, UNICEF and Gavi have initiated a COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership, to assist government-led vaccine strategies through political engagement, delivery funding, technical assistance and surge support, added Tedros.

“This partnership will bring the tools, training, and expertise to strengthen cold chains and logistics, deploy vaccinators, mobilize funding, strengthen data systems, engage communities, and plan and coordinate operations,” he added.

From Ports to Arms: WHO Africa Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti, ACT Accelerator envoy Dr Ayoade Alakija and CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett

COVAX anniversary

Seth Berkley, head of the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, said that Wednesday (24 February) marked the first anniversary of the first COVAX delivery on African soil. But since then, COVAX has delivered about 440 million doses now to 51 countries on the continent. Of these, 60 million had been delivered to Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, with 30 million more allocated to the country.

“The challenge is to make sure that the absorption capacity of countries is such that those doses can be used quickly and get to the people that them,” said Berkley.

Echoing Berkley’s call, Dr Ayoade Alakija, the convenor of the “Ports to Arms” conference, stressed that Africa would not accept anything less than the 70% vaccination rate.

‘Not about vaccine hesitancy’

Atul Gawande, Assistant Administrator of USAID, announced a new partnership with the government of Nigeria under the US government’s Initiative for Global Vaccine Access known as Global Vax.

Nigeria will get an additional $33.3 million to help ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach people who need them, said Gawande, adding that the US had already donated $143 million to the country to address the pandemic.

“This additional funding to Nigeria will support activities that simply go to where our partners find they needed the most. And that can be anything from needing to build the cold chain supply and logistics, to addressing vaccine confidence or driving mobile vaccination units,” said Gawande.

He paid tribute to the country for administering six million COVID-19 vaccine doses in January, a 30% increase on the previous month.

“We clearly have a long way to go with just 30% of this population vaccinated. But what Nigeria is showing us is what we want to show the world. This isn’t about vaccine hesitancy. It’s not about an unwillingness to be vaccinated. It’s about making sure that access is closer to people. It’s nearer to people and that when we do people actually do take the vaccine,” said Gawande.

Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations’ (CEPI’s), described mRNA technology as “game-changing technology that offers the potential for African countries to leapfrog over those alleged decades that it will take to catch up and achieve self-sufficiency”.

Image Credits: UNICEF/Kokoroko.

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