LAGOS, NIGERIA- While the Nigerian government makes plans to receive the country’s first doses of the coronavirus vaccine, questions are being raised about the capability of the country’s health care facilities to store the vaccine.
Lagos state has been the epicenter of the pandemic in Nigeria since the outbreak and is likely to receive priority consideration in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccines, according to a statement released by the Lagos state government on Jan. 31.
Health care facilities in Lagos have the infrastructure to store the Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines which require storage at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit) but are less equipped to store the Pfizer vaccine at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Maj. Gen. Dr. Shina Ogunbiyi, the head of the Lagos COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit.
“The conditionality expected for [the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine] storage is much less than that for the Pfizer [vaccine],” he said. “The Lagos state government is going to go for these other [vaccines] which our normal cold chain facilities can handle.”
Although the federal government says it has built new infrastructure for the storage of COVID-19 vaccines, experts still doubt that Lagos facilities are well equipped to handle the storage and distribution of the vaccines because of the complexities of cold chain maintenance.
“I'm not sure we’ve actually put things in place,” said Dr. Ganiyat Oyeleke. “In most places, electricity is not regular, and you have to find alternative sources of power.”
Nigeria’s previous battles with infectious diseases and constant need to administer vaccines and immunizations to its citizens has equipped it with suitable facilities for the storage of various vaccines, according to Ogunbiyi.
Health care officials say that Lagos state’s previously established immunization techniques and solar powered storage facilities may enable it to store the coronavirus vaccines that do not require extremely low temperatures for preservation.
“In some local governments, the state ministry of health actually put in place solar powered mechanisms for storage of these kinds of vaccines,” said Ogunbiyi. “I won't be surprised if Lagos state has the same thing like that as well.”
The country has a routine immunization sector involved with polio and childhood diseases, according to Ogunbiyi. That sector is bolstered by pre-existing storage facilities for other immunizations including solar powered refrigeration.
The federal government earlier stated that it was expecting the country’s first batch of Pfizer vaccines in February, but the country failed to be shortlisted among the four African countries to receive the vaccine through the COVAX initiative by the World Health Organization.
Nigeria was excluded because of its “inability to meet the standard requirement of storing the [Pfizer] vaccines,” according to an article in Premium Times.
The report of Nigeria’s “disqualification” was later refuted by Dr. Walter Mulombo, a WHO country representative, at a press conference on Saturday, according to articles in Premium Times and Company News.
A partnership among BUA - a private conglomerate - , Coalition Against COVID-19, and African Export Import Bank secured one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the country, according to a press statement released by the BUA group.
The vaccines secured by BUA are expected to arrive in the country in the next few days and will be the first vaccines to be delivered to the country, according to the company. “The vaccines will be distributed free at no cost.”