By Kelvin Osa Okunbor, Oyebola Owolabi, Vincent Ikuomola, Frank Ikpefan, Moses Emorinken, Abuja
Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire yesterday explained why one million doses of the donated COVID-19 vaccines given to Nigeria by some international donors expired and were eventual withdrawn from circulation.
He assured Nigerians that there were no expired COVID-19 vaccines in circulation, stating that vaccines expiration was not limited to Nigeria.
Ehanire stated these in Abuja while reacting to an online publication that nearly one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had expired last month.
The minister stressed that the best way to end such occurrences would be for the country to begin the production of its own vaccines.
According to data from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), as of December 6, about 7,244,620 of total eligible persons had received their first dose. The data added that 3,811,693 had received their second dose – fully vaccinated.
Ehanire said: “The attention of the Federal Ministry of Health has been drawn to reports circulating in the media to the effect that some Covid-19 vaccines had expired in Nigeria.
“Nigeria has, of late, enjoyed the generosity of several, mainly European countries, who have offered us doses of COVID-19 vaccines out of their stockpiles, free of charge, through COVAX or AVAT facility. These donations are always acknowledged and thankfully received. However, some of them had residual shelf lives of only a few months that left us very short time, some just weeks, to use them, after deduction of time to transport, clear, distribute and deliver to users. If such vaccines arrive back-to-back or are many, logistic bottlenecks occasionally arise.
“We appreciate the kind gesture of donors, but also communicated the challenge of short shelf lives, whereupon some manufacturers offered to extend the vaccine shelf life after the fact, by 3 months, a practice that, though accepted by experts, is declined by the Federal Ministry of Health, because it is not accommodated in our standards. Nigeria does not dispense vaccines with a validity extended beyond labelled expiry date. We continue to adhere to our rigorous standards.
“Donation of surplus Covid-19 vaccines with expiring shelf lives to developing countries has been a matter of international discussion. Developing countries like Nigeria accept them because they close our critical vaccine supply gaps and, being free, save us scarce foreign exchange procurement costs. This dilemma is not typical to Nigeria, but a situation in which many low- and medium-income countries find themselves.”
Ehanire added: “Nigeria has utilised most of the over 10 million short-shelf-life doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far supplied to us, in good time, and saved N16.4 billion or more than $40m in foreign exchange. The vaccines that expired had been withdrawn before then, and will be destroyed accordingly, by NAFDAC.
“The Ministry of Health shares its experience with partners regularly and now politely declines all vaccine donations with short shelf life or those that cannot be delivered in time.”
Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine neutralises Omicron with three shots
BioNTech and Pfizer (PFE.N) said yesterday that a three-shot course of their COVID-19 vaccine was able to neutralise the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test and they could deliver an upgraded vaccine in March 2022, if needed.
The German and U.S. companies said two doses of their vaccine resulted in significantly lower neutralising antibodies, but a third dose boosted those antibodies by a factor of 25.
“The first line of defence, with two doses of vaccination, might be compromised and three doses of vaccination are required to restore protection,” BioNTech Chief Medical Officer Ozlem Tuereci said at a news conference.
Saudi Arabia bans flights from Nigeria
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also shut its doors against Nigeria, following the report of the Coronavirus variant, Omicron, in the country.
The Saudi Arabian ban is coming three days after the United Kingdom, Canada and other countries imposed ban on flights from Nigeria.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) in Saudi Arabia allegedly confirmed the development in a circular issued yesterday.
The circular was signed by Assistant President for Economic Policy and Air Transport, Dr. Faisal Al Sugair, titled: ‘’Suspension of flights from and to the Federal Republic of Nigeria’’ and directed to airlines operating in the airports of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The circular instructed the suspension of all incoming flights and entry to the Kingdom for non-nationals coming directly or indirectly from Nigeria, except for those who have spent a period of no less than 14 days in another country from which they are allowed to come.
According to the circular, home quarantine will be applied for a period of five days to Saudi Arabia citizens coming from Nigeria, provided PCR examination on the first day and the fifth day regardless of immunisation status.
AU, IATA urge end to travel curbs on African nations
The African Union (AU) has called for an urgent end to travel restrictions imposed on some of its member states, saying the measures effectively penalise governments for timely data sharing in line with international health regulations.
The measures act “as a disincentive for information sharing in the future, potentially posing a threat to health security on the continent and globally,” the AU said in a statement.
Also, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) yesterday called on governments to follow World Health Organisation (WHO) advice and immediately rescind travel bans that were introduced in response to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Lagos sets condition for social events
Lagos State has clarified safety protocols to be adhered to before holding a party, especially in the wake of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A statement by the Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotoso, said it was necessary to clarify perceived ambiguities in the government’s stance on social events and gatherings during the yuletide, and spell out what is expected of event organisers and attendees.
The statement reads: “All social events must be duly registered to obtain Event Safety Clearance from the Lagos State Safety Commission, website: www.lasgsafetyreg.com, prior to holding; and the guidelines set out below must be strictly adhered to.
“Where possible events should be held in an outdoor space; occupancy limit at any event must not exceed 60 per cent of maximum design capacity of the event centre; all attendees of a social gathering are expected to present their vaccination cards or digital bar code page, showing at least first dose, but preferably double dose full vaccination. In unvaccinated people, a negative PCR test within 72 hours will be an exemption; and guests and service providers with high temperature (above 37.5) are to be politely turned back and referred to paramedics or the emergency response team on ground.”
It added: “All guests and service providers at the event must wear a nose mask or face shield before entry; all guests and service providers must endeavor to wash their hands before entering the venue or use hand sanitisers after which temperature checks should be carried out; and hand sanitisers to be positioned at the entry point and different spots within the venue.
“Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is also appropriate, at this moment, to request that we should all exercise a high degree of care and responsibility towards ourselves and loved ones during the festive season. Let us, as much as possible, endeavor to avoid huge gatherings and events during this period, as experience has shown that these events have the tendency to be super spreading events.
“We wish you all a very festive and blessed holiday season ahead.”
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