‘Fantastic step forward’: First COVAX vaccines arrive in Nigeria

Africa’s most populous country receives nearly four million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, with healthcare and front-line workers to be the first to be inoculated.

The first batch of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses are offloaded from a plane during its arrival at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, in Abuja, Nigeria on March 2, 2021 [Kola Sulaimon/AFP]

Nigeria has received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the third country in Africa to get the shots through COVAX, a global scheme formed to ensure fair access to inoculations for low- and middle-income states.

A flight carrying 3.94 million doses of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and drugmaker AstraZeneca arrived shortly before noon on Tuesday at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in the capital, Abuja.

Made by the Serum Institute of India, these are the first of 16 million jabs that the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) plans to deliver over the coming months to Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, with some 200 million people. Healthcare and front-line workers will be the first to be inoculated later this week.




Richer countries have surged ahead with vaccinations but many poorer countries are still awaiting deliveries, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn the coronavirus crisis cannot end unless everyone can inoculate their populations.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was among those hailing the arrival of the jabs in Nigeria, calling on Twitter for global solidarity “to supply vaccines to all countries in the first 100 days of 2021”.

Echoing Tedros’s call, Peter Hawkins, country representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said there was still a long way to go in fulfilling “our obligations to the people of Nigeria”.

“But close to four million is a big amount,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s a fantastic step forward for Nigeria and a fantastic step forward for the whole of Africa, and people will take them. There is no question about that,” he said.

Tricky transport

Nigeria’s food and drug control agency approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use last month and vaccinations are scheduled to start on Friday.

“As the vaccines arrive in batches due to limited supply we will inform Nigerians about who and where to receive the vaccine,” Faisal Shuaib, director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, told reporters.

The agency launched a self-registration portal online to try to ease the roll-out, but the country faces immense security and logistics challenges.

“States without a functional airport will have their vaccines transported by road using vans with fitted cold cabins, from the nearest airport,” Shuaib said.

Government official Boss Mustapha urged traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil society groups and the media to spread the message that vaccinations were needed, adding: “This is a fight for everyone.”

Nigeria has recorded 156,017 cases and 1,915 deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to data compiled Johns Hopkins University.

Also on Tuesday, Angola received a batch of 624,000 doses from COVAX.

Last week, Ghana and Ivory Coast were the first African countries to get vaccines from the scheme, which is led by WHO, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) with UNICEF as implementing partner.

Some 237 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine are to be delivered by the end of May to 142 participating economies, COVAX says.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies