Senate leadership meets with Executive over plans to purchase COVID-19 vaccine

Michael Adeshina

The Senate has made it clear that it has no confidence in the Federal Ministry of Health to effectively store and distribute COVID-19 vaccines worth N378bn when they arrive in Nigeria.

The N378bn would be required to vaccinate 70 percent of Nigerians, at $8 per person.

N156bn would be needed in 2021 and N220bn in 2022.

This was made known as the Senate leadership on Monday met with representatives of the Executive arm of Government in a move that would see to the purchase of the COVID-19 vaccines next year by the Federal Government.

The meeting lasted about two hours thirty minutes and was presided over by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.

The representatives of the Federal Government were led by Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, and Minister of Finance and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed.

Others at the meeting include Sen. Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora; Director-General, Budget and National Planning, Ben Akabueze; Director-General, National Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu; and Director-General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

However, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in his welcome address said that the meeting which was summoned at the instance of the Senate leadership was scheduled to ascertain the level of preparedness by the Federal Government towards the purchase of the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to him, an engagement between the legislature and executive would evaluate and appraise the government’s readiness to acquire the vaccine for administration to Nigerians across the country.

“Essentially, we want you to tell us how we are going to be able to provide the vaccines in such a manner that the vaccines are not only acquired but remain efficacious and effective that they are not invalidated because of any challenge in the area of storage or during transportation. And we know ours is a very difficult and sometimes impossible environment.

“Other countries have already started receiving the vaccines, even though I’m not sure if there’s any African country that has received. But if any African country should receive first, it should be Nigeria.

“Alongside these, you should also give us an idea on how we are going to start the vaccination.

“We need to have the strategy of how we intend to do it so that we don’t run into any chaos.

“That means we need to continue to campaign for our people to continue to use face-masks and hand sanitizers as well as keep to social distancing.

“Because if we have the vaccine, it would take quite sometime before everybody gets it. And before then, we should insist on the protocols because this is a matter of life and death,” Lawan said.

Briefing the Senate leadership, the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said four holding points had been identified by the agency for storage of the vaccine.

According to him, the locations are Abuja, Lagos, Enugu and Kano.

He disclosed that an ultra-cool system will be provided by GAVI – a public–private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunisation in poor countries – at the various locations as part of an initial 20 percent agreement.

He added that “the vaccine distribution plan has been developed and will be further updated with the micro-planning process as the need arises.”

On the cost implication for purchase of the vaccine, Shuaib said that additional vaccines over the 20 percent supply agreement to poor countries will be purchased by the Federal Government.

“In terms of the cost of the vaccines, we plan to reach 70 percent as earlier mentioned by the end of 2022.

“For 2021, GAVI-eligible countries like Nigeria will be supported through the COVAX AMC facility in the procurement of 20 percent for the total population.

“Any additional vaccine required that is above 20 percent of the COVAX facility will be funded by Nigeria at an average price of $4 per dose, given that the vaccines that we have now require 2 doses; that will be $8USD per person.

“This additional 20 percent requirement in 2021 will have to be funded by the government of Nigeria.

“In 2022, we are trying to access a further 30 percent of the vaccines. The Federal Government will have to, in addition to buying these vaccines, pay for the operational cost which is estimated to be about $1.6USD per person.

“We have to budget for this in 2021 and 2022. In 2021, the cost of vaccines on operations will be N156.7 billion; In 2022, it will be N220.9 billion,” Shuaib said.

However, the leadership of the Senate were not convinced by the level of preparedness by the Federal Government towards the purchase of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Lawan said the National Assembly was ready to support but must be convinced by the efforts of the Federal Government to ensure effective storage and distribution of the vaccines.

“I have not been convinced with your presentation that we are ready to bring in the vaccines. You have to do much more to convince me that we are ready. This is a matter of life and death. I am not only a doubting Thomas; I’m also a doubting Ahmad.”

The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, also added his concerns by saying “I am a doubting Omo Agege also.”

However, the Health minister, Ehanire, insisted that the country had successfully fought polio and would use the same storage facilities (cold chains) to store the COVID-19 vaccines.

Ehanire urged the Senate to have confidence in the plan for the COVID-19 vaccine campaign.