By Felix Onuah
ABUJA, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Nigeria will seek to procure vaccines that are less dependent on cooling facilities, the head of the country’s primary healthcare agency said on Tuesday, adding that talks were in progress with Russia and India to procure such vaccines.
Africa’s most populous country, where officials recorded low coronavirus numbers through much of 2020, is in its second wave of infections and has seen cases surge in recent weeks.
Nigerian health authorities have said the country is working with the COVAX programme backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) that aims to provide vaccines to poorer countries.
Faisal Shuaib, who heads the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, has said Nigeria expects to receive 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by early February under the scheme. The vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures.
“Our plan now is not to over-invest on ultra cold equipment for vaccines like that of Pfizer vaccines, but go for vaccines that need less cooling facilities,” Shuaib told reporters in the capital, Abuja, during a tour of cold storage facilities.
“We are currently engaged in talks with Russia and India to get more vaccines,” Shuaib said, restating the target of vaccinating 70% of Nigeria’s 200 million inhabitants within the next two years.
Shuaib did not provide details of quantities discussed and said vaccines would require certification by Nigeria’s drugs regulator.
Other obstacles were also likely. The World Health Organization’s pandemic review panel co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed disappointment on Tuesday in COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans which meant shots would not be widely available in Africa until 2022 or 2023.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at temperatures of around -70 degrees Celsius (-112°F) before being sent to distribution centres in specially designed cool boxes filled with dry ice. Once out of ultra-low temperature storage, it must be kept at 2C to 8C to remain effective for up to five days.
Some experts have expressed doubts that Nigerian authorities will be able to store and transport the vaccine at such low temperatures.
The health minister on Monday said Nigeria had written to the African Union requesting 10 million vaccine doses, and allocated $26 million for licensed vaccine production.
As of Tuesday, Nigeria had recorded 112,004 COVID-19 cases resulting in 1,449 deaths.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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