The announcement last month that the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (GAVI) has extended its funding support for immunisation in Nigeria until 2028 is, no doubt, a cheering piece of news for the nation.This extension must however only be seen as a great opportunity for the country to finally and properly commence its journey to vaccine security for its teeming population.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who broke the news, revealed that the board of GAVI, the largest global coalition of public and private sectors facilitating accelerated access to vaccines to children living in the world’s poorest countries, had extended the transitional period of vaccine support for Nigeria from 2021 to 2028, at a whopping cost of about 1.03 billion dollars.
The extension had followed a plea by the Nigerian government to GAVI for a reconsideration of an earlier 2001 agreement with GAVI, through which the global body had agreed to strengthen immunisation system in Nigeria by supporting the country with the introduction of life-saving vaccines such as Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) and Pentavalent vaccines, as well as additional support for non-vaccine operations, at a cost of $732,130,326.
This agreement was supposed to end by 2021 but the Nigerian government had appealed to GAVI for an extension, stating that the nation was not ready to bear the financial burden of its immunisation programme. Unsurprisingly, while Nigeria awaited GAVI’s response to its plea, stakeholders in the health sector had been worried about the fate of the various immunisation initiatives in Nigeria after 2021. It was obvious that the nation was clearly incapable of meeting the vaccine needs of its people. There were no funds to buy vaccines for the citizens and no capacity to produce vaccines locally.
It must be noted that given the dicey gridlock in which the country found itself, the federal government’s decision to proactively request GAVI’s continued support, three years ahead of the 2021 deadline, was a judicious one. Yet, the government needs to realise that vaccine provision for its people is no longer just a health issue but a serious security concern. For the Nigerian nation with its huge population of almost 200 million to depend on external sources for over 80 per cent of its vaccine needs is not just inexcusable but utterly precarious. As the outbreaks of some serious vaccine-preventable conditions in recent times have shown, it is a great indiscretion for any nation – not especially one with vast resources as Nigeria – to be at the mercy of others for its drug or vaccine needs.
It is time Nigeria stopped this beggarly attitude. The federal government must make the most of the GAVI extension period by paying more serious attention to the critical issue of vaccine funding, as well as expediting the process of private-public-partnership and local vaccine production.
The recent inauguration of the board of a private local vaccine company, Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, by the present government, is a step in the right direction towards local vaccine production. However, the government must go beyond inauguration to actually coming up with further initiatives that will consolidate this move towards vaccine security by granting Biovaccines tariff waivers on raw materials and machineries for production. This must be backed by other necessary forms of support to the company.
It must be equally emphasised that government’s support for vaccine production must not be limited to Biovaccines. Rather it should begin to encourage and support other companies or organisations desirous of going into vaccine production. It is our view that the nation must be able to produce, at least, 70 per cent of its vaccine needs. Therefore, the more capable players who are willing to go this direction, the better it will be for the Nigerian nation.
Lastly, while Nigeria must act in tandem with international best practice, there must also be a concerted and well-articulated strategy to develop capacity for local research that will enhance local content sourcing of materials needed for our vaccine production. We must ensure that the vaccines that will be produced locally are ones that the processes of producing are well thought out and sustainable. The time to start is now.