There are strong indications that a crisis has hit Nigeria’s moves to procure more COVID-19 vaccine doses as the budget estimates for the procurement are grossly inadequate.
It was gathered on Sunday that the budget estimates the Ministry of Health submitted to the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning were based on AstraZeneca vaccine, which is $4 per dose.
Findings, however, indicated that because of the scarcity of AstraZeneca vaccine, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis in India, Nigeria might opt for Pfizer vaccine, which is $20 per dose.
It was learnt that with the cash crunch facing the country, it might be difficult to get additional funds to purchase all the Pfizer vaccine doses needed.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had at a meeting with the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, in March said he would submit to the National Assembly, a supplementary budget for arms purchase and COVID-19 vaccines.
But the National Assembly on Sunday told The PUNCH that it was still awaiting the supplementary budget.
Recall that the Federal Government on March 2 received 3.9 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX, an initiative co-led by the Vaccine Alliance, GAVI, and the World Health Organisation.
The initiative seeks to ensure equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine by dividing about two billion doses across 92 low-and middle-income countries.
As of May 1, 1,222, 109 Nigerians had been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency.
India, which manufactures Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, has halted its export following the spread of a devastating strain of the virus in the country.
According to a BBC report, 190 countries that are under the Covax scheme are likely to be affected as India battles to meet its local vaccine needs.
On Sunday, India recorded 3,689 COVID-19 deaths, 24 hours after it recorded more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day for the first time.
According to CNN, several Indian states were forced to postpone their vaccination plans on Saturday due to supply shortages.
On Sunday, it was learnt the Federal Ministry of Health’s budget proposal, which was based on AstraZeneca vaccine, might be increased so that the fund could be used to procure Pfizer vaccine.
A top health official, who spoke to The PUNCH on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the press, said the proposal submitted to the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, were estimates of AstraZeneca which are now scarce.
The official said with the scarcity of AstraZeneca, which cost about $4 per dose, Nigeria may opt for Pfizer, the only other vaccine which had been approved by the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control.
She said, “The estimates we submitted were for AstraZeneca which is the cheapest vaccine on the market. We estimated that each dose would cost $4.
“However, with the scarcity of AstraZeneca, we may have to opt for Pfizer. Unfortunately, Pfizer will cost us about $20 per dose and each person will need two doses. That is $40 per person. They are now talking about a booster jab which will cost an extra $20. In essence, it may cost $60 (N24,600) to vaccinate one Nigerian.
“This problem is not peculiar to Nigeria, but this is what we are facing now due to the scarcity of vaccines. Also, I am sure you are aware that Nigeria is facing a scarcity of funds. So, advocacy remains our best strategy. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions like wearing masks, social distancing and washing of hands.”
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had in a memo last week stated that it would be making no contribution to the Federation Account because of its huge oil subsidy payments, a situation which has put the government in panic mode.
In a related development, it was learnt that over a month after the Ministry of Health had submitted its COVID-19 budget estimates to the finance ministry, the proposal had not yet been submitted to the National Assembly.
The Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, had on March 31 told State House reporters that the health component of the supplementary budget – which included vaccine estimates – was being delayed by the failure of the Ministry of Defence to submit its own estimates for military hardware.
When asked the time the finance ministry would send the COVID-19 supplementary budget to the National Assembly, the media aide to the finance minister, Yunusa Abdullahi, told one of our correspondents that he would respond later.
He had yet to provide the response up till the time of filing this report neither had he replied to a text message sent to him on the matter.
Also, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, did not take his calls when The PUNCH attempted to get his reaction to the crisis over the vaccine budget.
He also did not respond to the text message sent to him on the matter.
In the text message, the minister was asked if it was true that the WHO met with him and some others to review the usage of expiring COVID-19 vaccines for Nigeria and whether it was also true that the scarcity of AstraZeneca would increase the nation’s budget for vaccine as Nigeria might opt for a more expensive vaccine, Pfizer.
He has yet to either return the calls or respond to the text message as of the time of filing this report at 9.30pm.
WHO may review usage of expired COVID-19 vaccines for Nigeria, others
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation will this week consult Indian health authorities to determine if expired AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine can be used for countries like Nigeria which benefit from its COVAX facility.
The Director, WHO, Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, stated this during an interview with select journalists on Thursday.
The idea, it was learnt, had been discussed with all ministers of health in Africa including Nigeria’s Health Minister, Dr Osagie Ehanire.
The PUNCH was informed that the move had become necessary due to the scarcity of AstraZeneca vaccine caused by the recent surge in COVID-19 infections in India which is the manufacturer of the vaccine.
Moeti said, “On Tuesday I met with ministers in the African region to discuss key issues, particularly around expiring doses, supply shortages, vaccine safety and misinformation. The WHO is awaiting additional stability data from the Serum Institute of India to determine if the shelf life of AstraZeneca COVID-19 doses can be extended from six months to nine months.
“For doses that have already expired, the WHO is looking closely at the regulatory, scientific, logistical and problematic challenges and will issue a statement next week (this week).”
The BBC had reported last week that many vaccines could be used up to 36 months after manufacture, but because COVID-19 jabs are relatively new, there is not enough data to prove their effectiveness over longer periods.