(Reuters) – A doctor who has spent the past year treating COVID-19 patients on Friday became the first person in Nigeria to be vaccinated against the disease, kicking off a mammoth campaign that aims to inoculate 80 million people this year.
Vaccinating all of Nigeria’s 200 million people and those in other developing countries is seen as key to stemming the global spread of the coronavirus.
“I am happy to be the first and I am happy I am not the last,” the doctor, 42-year-old Ngong Cyprian, told Reuters. “I want everybody to be vaccinated.”
Two other male doctors and one female nurse were also inoculated in white tents draped in green, the colours of the national flag, while cameras rolled and officials clapped and cheered.
Nigeria, with 157,671 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,951 deaths, has not been as hard hit by the pandemic as initially feared, but is aiming to vaccinate 40% of its people this year, and a further 30% in 2022.
It took delivery of 3.92 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday through the COVAX scheme and expects to receive 84 million doses via COVAX this year.
The scheme for poor and middle-income countries is co-led by Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and the World Health Organization, with UNICEF as an implementing partner.
‘LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL’
Nigeria also expects at least 40 million doses from the African Union and 100,000 donated doses of India’s Covishield vaccine.
President Muhammadu Buhari and other “strategic leaders” will be vaccinated on Saturday in an effort to increase public confidence in the shots.
But getting doses to the rest of the vast nation, with its pot-holed roads and lawless areas, presents an enormous challenge. Not all states have functioning airports, and rail networks are limited.
Nigeria’s 36 states, including Lagos, the commercial capital and epicentre of the pandemic in the country, will receive shots in coming weeks. Seroprevalence studies suggest 23% of Lagos state inhabitants may have had COVID-19 in October.
Faisal Shuaib, executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said sending vaccines to states would depend on their preparedness, including worker training, cold chain storage maintenance, security in transit and at vaccination sites, and a range of other factors.
Large portions of the north face daunting security issues, including Islamist militants in the northeast and increasingly bold armed bandits in the northwest who have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren in recent months.
Frontline healthcare workers and employees in key sectors, including oil and gas, will be among those getting the first shots, followed by adults with pre-existing conditions. All those over 18, excluding pregnant women, can then be vaccinated.
“Vaccines provide light at the end of the tunnel, but we must get to the end of the tunnel,” said Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
(Reporting By Camillus Eboh; Additional reporting by Afolabi Sotunde; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Gareth Jones and Hugh Lawson)