Lawan doubts Nigeria’s readiness for vaccines

By Sanni Onogu, Abuja

Senate President Ahmad Lawan on Monday questioned the preparedness of the Federal Ministry of Health to effectively acquire, store and vaccinate Nigerians against COVID-19.

This is coming as the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who was accompanied by his counterpart in the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, said the Federal Government has earmarked N400 billion for the acquisition of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Lawan spoke when the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 visited him to brief the leadership of the upper chamber on the preparation by the Federal Government to acquire COVID-19 vaccine for use in the country.

The Senate President expressed doubt about the readiness of the Federal Government to manage the COVID-19 vaccination.

Lawan said the National Assembly was ready to support the funding for adequate vaccines to protect Nigerians, but that the Minister of Health must convince the National Assembly that they have adequate facilities and manpower to protect the proposed vaccine.

He said: “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, but I am also doubting Ahmad.”

Lawan insisted that the Health Minister should provide the list and location of the storage facilities for inspection.

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Deputy President of the Senate Ovie Omo-Agege also joined in expressing doubt over the ability of the health officials to guarantee the safety of the vaccines.

He said: “I am a doubting Omo-Agege also.”

He expressed strong worry that the government so far had made preparations for only four cold chains for the vaccines in Abuja,  Kano,  Enugu and Lagos and asked why the entire Southsouth region was not included in the plan.

The DSP also expressed worry that the vaccines might lose their efficacy on transit to the Southsouth, if no facility was provided in the region.

Omo-Agege urged the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to ensure that the citizens, especially from the zone, did not end up being inoculated with bad vaccines that may do more harm than good.

Other senators also expressed strong doubts over the presentations of the officials from the Ministry of Health on the facilities that had been put in place to ensure adequate storage protection for the vaccines.

The minister said about N400 billion would be required to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 211 million population, at $8 per person.

Ehanire said  N156 billion would be needed in 2021 and N200 billion would be required in 2022.

But, the Director-General of the NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, created a drama at session.

Adeyeye, who forced herself to join the conversation without clearance from the minister, said the agency, being the regulator of drugs consumed by citizens, would make sure vaccines acquired by the Federal Government are safe.

Her bombshell drew the attention of the lawmakers, who inquired from Ehanire if he was not carrying NAFDAC along in the entire exercise.

Ehanire’s explanation did not sound convincing to the lawmakers who warned him against procuring any vaccine that does not have the full approval of NAFDAC.