Fed Govt intensifies push for COVID-19 vaccine

By Bolaji Ogundele, Abuja

  • Ministers: there will be no lockdown

  • ‘Travel ban not likely’

The Federal Government will intensify the push for COVID-19 vaccine, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Tuesday.

The government, he said, is obliged to “speedily and strategically” make the vaccine available “in a timely manner”.

Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire last week said the government will ensure that the vaccine get to Nigeria next month. He added that it will undergo test trial by Nigerian agencies to ascertain its suitability before being administered on Nigerians.

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has warned that the country’s healthcare system is too fragile to withstand a major outbreak of COVID-19.

The president said a comprehensive health sector reform must be instituted.

He urged Nigerians to remain vigilant amid the second wave of the virus.

President Buhari spoke when he received the PTF’s end of year report at the State House. He extended the PTF’s mandate until March.

The President has endorsed the introduction of restrictions in the next five weeks to curb the spread of the second wave of the virus pandemic.

The government, however, ruled out a lockdown of the economy.

During this period, there will be a strict adherence to the protocols, including limiting the number of people at public events.

Schools will not reopen until January 18, among other measures being re-introduced.

The President said: “Recent reports reaching me indicate that Nigeria is now facing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide, which is similar to the second wave of infections occurring in other countries across the world.

Read Also; Nigeria to start manufacturing vaccines soon – NAFDAC

“New epicentres have been identified and the nation cannot afford to lose the gains of the last nine months.

“I have critically evaluated the situation and remain convinced that urgent measures have to be taken to halt the spread and the attendant fatalities.

“Closely associated with the foregoing is the need to speedily and strategically access and administer the COVID vaccine in a safe, effective and timely manner.

“This is an important obligation that we owe Nigerians as we go into the year 2021 and it must be carried out through efficient machinery.

“Accordingly, I have authorised the following measures for implementation: the extension of the mandate of the PTF for a further period till the end of March 2021, bearing in mind the new surge in the number of cases and the bid for vaccines;

“The PTF should coordinate the process for planning and the strategy for accessing, delivery and administration of the vaccines, using the existing health structures that have worked in the past in vaccine administration;

“I have authorised the PTF to engage with the states for them to assume full ownership of this stage of the response by deploying legal structures and resources, including enforcement, to manage the pandemic within their jurisdictions.

“I have authorised the PTF and the Nigeria Immigration Service to ensure that all in-bound passengers who failed to show up for post-arrival COVID-19 test are sanctioned within the ambit of the law, for breaching the public health protocols.”

The President said the nation is clearly in a perilous situation, given the virulent nature of this second wave.

“We must act decisively to protect our people. I, therefore, urge all sub-national entities, traditional rulers, religious and leaders of thought to collaborate with the PTF by taking up the responsibility for risk communication and community engagement at all levels. Now is the time for collective efforts to be intensified.

“As the festive season approaches, I urge all Nigerians to remain vigilant and stay safe. Non-essential trips and large social gatherings should be avoided or shelved completely,” he said.

The President emphasised the need for a comprehensive health sector reform.

He said: “There is still more work to be done in the health sector to help us cater for our citizens and minimize the drain on our foreign exchange and trained manpower through medical tourism.

“For Nigeria to enjoy a lasting legacy from the huge investment in the health sector, a comprehensive health sector reform that will achieve the following amongst others must be instituted.

“The objectives include: to build the human and institutional capacity to provide a world-class 21st-century health care system, capable of responding effectively to future pandemics; develop a viable strategy for our primary and tertiary healthcare system; re-align institutional mandates and functions within the health sector for effectiveness and efficiency; distinguish policy and coordination from implementation responsibilities, and strengthen the statutory and regulatory capacities within the health sector.”

PTF National Coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, said the pandemic has further exposed the weaknesses in the healthcare system.

He said: “There are three key lessons we must carry forward: COVID-19 will be with us for a while. Although this is the new normal, it continues to be just as deadly.

“Nevertheless, we have shown it is possible to keep it in check through the work we have done – we must persevere and continue the communication and enforcement aspects required to keep us safe until the epidemic is over.

“Next year will be all about the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a huge challenge for the country and will require your leadership and continued commitment, Mr President.

“All hands must be on deck to deliver and overcome the challenges of securing the supply of safe and effective vaccines, logistics and acceptance.

“Our health system has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s health system is fragile and may not withstand the effect of a major outbreak of COVID-19 or other infections.

“There is an urgent need for a carefully thought through and action-oriented reform of the health sector that will improve our health security and place the country in a better position to manage future health threats.

“However, it is not over yet. A lot more work needs to be done to enable us to transition back to normal. I am confident that working together and with your continued support, we will overcome this challenge once again.”

PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said there was a need for a dedicated fund for pandemics and other health emergencies.

Mustapha said: “The evacuation of citizens from all over the world.

Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed said the protocols on foreign travels subsist to the effect that those travelling to Nigeria would not be able to come on board unless they have the certificate that they tested negative for the virus.

He said when they arrive in the country, they must self-isolate for seven days after which they would go back for confirmation test.

Mohammed explained that what the government had done was to reduce the chances of mass gathering by directing its workers from Level 12 below to work from home.