Doctors and medical practitioners have raised concerns over the current deviation from what they describe as the original COVID-19 vaccination plan designed after the arrival of about 4 million Astrazeneca vaccine into Nigeria.
They expressed their dissatisfaction during a webinar, organized by Yiaga Africa to look at emerging issues and challenges in the cause of vaccine distribution, and to proffer solutions.
The chairman of Nigeria Medical Association’s National Committee on Infectious Diseases, Dr Sanusi Muhammed, said the initial plan of vaccinating health workers, frontline workers, those with higher morbidity and mortality rate is not being followed at the ongoing vaccination of citizens across the country.
According to Sanusi, the idea of vaccinating frontline health workers is because they are at higher risks due to constant contacts with patients.
According to him, they have to be protected first, so that they can be confident to provide health care and services.
“We need to stick to the vaccination plan so that even if the vaccine doesn’t go round, those with higher risk, elderly and those with high morbidity and mortality are prevented from getting infected and that will reduce the burden of the disease and mortality,” Mohammed said.
On the issue of misinformation and misconception raised in the policy brief released by Yiaga Africa, Sanusi said, the misconception about COVID-19 vaccine is not only in Nigeria but all over the world with many countries stopping the vaccine based on rumors and non-scientific basis.
However, he said many countries have since backtracked on their earlier decision to suspend the process as they are now coming to join the bandwagon with over 50 million people being vaccinated across the world so far.
He called for a review of Nigeria’s health indices and the need for the government to declare a state of emergency in not just the security but the health sector, saying COVID-19 exposed health systems across the world.
“A lot of things have to be put in place. Issue of brain drain, issue of remuneration of health workers, Nigeria is one of the countries paying the least,” Mohammed said.
“Nigeria is paying less than 10 Dollars (5, 000 Naira) as health hazard allowances. This has been the case with previous diseases like Ebola, and Lassa fever, but COVID-19 has exposed this issue even more and shows that we need to do more in terms of manpower, infrastructure and also the basic lifesaving.”
He urged the National Assembly to speed up the passage of the Infectious Diseases Bill, explaining that the legislation will enhance control over what is happening in the country.
“You cannot allow political office holders to make ill-informed decisions with the lives of the people or masses of a state or Local Government Areas (LGAs) because of federalism or because he has the power to do so,” he said.
Echoing similar concerns was Dr. Henry Ewunonu, a medical health advocate and former national chairman of Nigeria Medical Association’s (NMA) Health Advocacy Committee.
Ewunonu revealed that he had seen citizens who are neither health workers nor elderly, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine during the first week of vaccination.
He urged the government to be transparent and accountable in a bid to increase private sector support adding: “Nigeria must not give the private sector reasons to back out or doubt if whatever they are doing is being appreciated”.
He decried the fact that he is yet to see a legislation, executive order or policy, prohibiting sharp practices in the course of administering COVID-19 vaccine to the population.
He called for a strict punishment to any indiscipline personnel even as he recalls a reported sharp practice at the Falomo Police clinic in Lagos.
In her remark, the Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu said the conversation was important to ensure that the whole process of vaccination is guided by certain principles and every aspect of society is catered for.
According to Mbamalu, in the implementation of vaccination plan in Nigeria, the country needed to deploy effective monitoring and evaluation systems that will help document how well it has done, document the learning and how it could improve on the system.
She said, “beyond just the vaccination, there is a need to look at how to strengthen the health sector in Nigeria”.
In his presentation of Yiaga Africa policy brief on COVID-19 vaccine management in Nigeria, Yiaga Africa’s Director of Center of Legislative Engagement, Dr Ernest Ereke who stated that the invention of vaccine is a pivotal moment in the global battle against the covid-19 pandemic worried about growing concerns that there is global challenge in the access to the vaccine.
He said the inequitable distribution of vaccines globally, accentuates the divide between the global north and global south saying this will weaken and hamper the fight against the global pandemic because the world is more linked together like never before.