By Babajide Okeowo
With one in every five persons tested in Nigeria for the coronavirus within the passing week turning out positive, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha has disclosed that the country is in a difficult place in the battle against the virus.
This is even as the PTF Boss disclosed that Nigeria and South Africa have continued to report the highest daily count of COVID-19 on the African continent with Nigeria moving up to the third position in the highest cumulative caseload but remains 2nd for new cases and 5th highest in cumulative deaths in the World Health Organisation, WHO African region.
“We are in a difficult situation in which a balance must continue to be struck between lives and livelihood.
We are considering all options while hoping that broad cooperation will be received. We must do everything possible to avoid the second lockdown in Nigeria,” Mr. Mustapha stated.
Regarding the positive news about vaccines, Boss Mustapha assured Nigerians that the PTF will ensure that the vaccines to be approved will be safe and effective.
“We must however work together as foot soldiers in the vaccine advocacy so that we can eliminate the pandemic. The PTF wishes to emphasise that the success of our national response shall not depend on vaccines alone. Rather, compliance with the non-pharmaceutical protocols must remain top on our individual priorities,” he stressed.
Prior to the briefing on Monday, the PTF had informed Nigerians about the resumption of schools nationwide, the task force through its chairman reassured that the resumption would be reviewed due to rising daily numbers of infections and the challenges of case management especially the shortage of oxygen. This he says is very crucial as not to allow the nation’s health facilities to be overwhelmed.
While several states have proceeded with the resumption of schools, the PTF recommended strongly that very strict adherence to Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions should be enforced by the States to avoid the escalation of cases.
The PTF Chairman said dialogues with the Governors and the Federal Ministry of Education to closely monitor the situation will continue.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has announced the release of N10 billion to support domestic vaccine production.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, made the disclosure during a briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 yesterday in Abuja.
He also announced that the first consignment of COVID-19 vaccines would arrive in the country in a few weeks.
The N10 billion for local vaccine production, he explained, was released by the Ministry of Finance and would be used to explore “options for licensed production in collaboration with recognised institutions.”
On importation of vaccines, he said Nigeria had requested 10 million doses of the injection, which could be supplied from March.
Preparing the COVID-19 vaccine, he explained, required that countries determine criteria for prioritisation, develop robust vaccine distribution strategy and identify vaccine administration sites and teams and that countries develop procurement, supply chain, and distribution plan for commodities and devices, as well as a sustainability plan.
“These we are already working on to be ready when the vaccines arrive,” he said.
The minister said Nigeria was exploring options for the acquisition of approved vaccines, adding Nigeria is participating in the African Union initiative called “African Vaccine Availability Task Team”, which reports directly to the African Union Chairman, President Ramaphosa of South Africa, and has secured 270 million doses of various types of vaccines.
He added: “Bearing in mind options suitable for our environment and the available infrastructure, as well as Investment in delivery, we shall engage other FMOH agencies, especially NAFDAC and NCDC, state governments, religious, traditional and community leaders, in plans for vaccines distribution, since their role is critical to the orderly and successful deployment of vaccines. We must be able to reach all those eligible to receive the vaccines.
Ehanire observed that while working to develop indigenous vaccines, Nigeria is exploring options for licensed production in collaboration with recognised institutions.
He said: “While the prospect of a vaccine arriving soon is cheering, the importance of non-pharmaceutical measures remain critical to preventing infections. The ministry will hold a national vaccine conference, as part of our preparations, to mobilise experts, role players, development partners, and stakeholders to create a unified and strategic front for the provision and vaccination of Nigerians against COVID 19. The conference will also provide a platform for deliberation on our COVID-19 response strategy, especially at this time of spike in cases.”