Africa News Bulletin

Uncertainty trails Nigeria’s plan to achieve Herd Immunity

As COVID-19 variants rage across the world, uncertainty mounts over plans by the Federal Government to achieve its target of 70 per cent herd immunity by 2022.

This, according to findings by Good Health Weekly, may not be unconnected with the dwindling enthusiasm earlier exhibited regarding the pandemic, safety protocols and the vaccine roll-out by the Federal government.

Non compliance to protocols
Today, millions of Nigerians have completely jettisoned the Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention protocols for COVID-19, such as face masks, hand washing and safe distancing, among others, despite the fact that there are ongoing community infections.

In most public places including hospitals, worship centres, offices, schools, etc., visited, people carry on without any of these safety measures. Only a few were seen with masks on the chin.

Some offices in Lagos with hand washing facilities in place had no water or soap available. More worrisome is the fact that some Federal government hospitals have discarded their hand washing facilities and hand sanitisers are no longer available.

Only installed empty sanitiser dispensers can be seen as evidence of past existence. At this moment, COVID-19 preventive measures are zero in almost all public places.

Public buses including those owned by the Lagos State government – Bus Rapid Transit, BRT – operate with no safety guidelines in place.

Apart from carrying full capacity, the physical distancing as recommended by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC is not observed.

A case in point was an incident a BRT bus plying Oshodi -Iyana Ipaja axis encountered by Good Health Weekly. The Lagos State government certainly needs to revisit enforcement of measures against the pandemic.

Several passengers in the bus were coughing and sneezing at intervals apparently due to the recent bad weather in the state.

“But one sad thing is that majority were not wearing face masks and the bus was loaded to capacity with passengers. One of the passengers did not stop coughing until the bus arrived Oshodi bus stop.

Fewer than 10 of the passengers had face masks on. It is anybody’s guess the implication is any of them were habouring COVID-19 or tuberculosis.

Such is the situation across the city and in many other cities across the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, FCT.

COVID-19 confirmed cases
According to data obtained from the NCDC websites, as of 30th of January, 2022, Nigeria had lost 3,135 people to COVID-19 officially as there maybe unaccounted number of deaths not captured n the NCDC record.

Till date, Nigeria carried out 4,116,369 tests and 253,042 confirmed cases.

Despite these figures, Nigeria failed to achieve its target of vaccinating 40 percent of eligible Nigerians with the COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 and is on the verge of not meeting its plan to vaccinate 70 percent by the end of 2022.

Total Nigerians vaccinated
As of 30th of January, 2022, Nigeria has only reached 13.4 percent with the 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 4.9 percent for 2nd dose.

Concerned health watchers say Nigeria may not achieve 70 percent herd immunity as planned.

Speaking at one of the briefings of Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib, had decried the low number of people who have been fully vaccinated, put the overall population of eligible persons targeted for COVID-19 vaccination to enable the country to reach herd immunity against the disease at 111,776,503.

But data from the agency’s website showed that only 14,951,642 of total eligible persons had been reached with the 1st dose while 5,483,973 of total eligible persons are fully vaccinated with the 2nd dose.

However, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, had in 2021 announced that the Federal Government was exploring all options to secure safe and efficacious vaccines to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria population in two years.

Going by the minister’s declaration, with a population of 200 million, Nigeria is targeting the vaccination of 140 million, but only a total of 14,951,642 Nigerians have been reached to date.

According to the experts, the situation is a far cry from the target, even as they noted that the planned herd immunity was “unrealistic” and “a mirage”.

In a chat, a Health Analyst, Dr Casmier Ifeanyi, who declared emphatically that Nigeria has failed woefully in COVID-19 testing said the country will not achieve herd immunity as planned.

Ifeanyi, a renowned Medical Laboratory Scientist said the reasons why Nigeria cannot achieve herd immunity are very obvious as the containment of COVID-19, testing remains critical.

“Failure in the area of testing (i.e to detect) is the corollary of poor response, preventive and mitigatory framework.

“The Nigeria health authorities in addition to their target of achieving Herd immunity through vaccination of our population critical also set the very lofty policy of testing all inbound and outbound travellers. Unfortunately, the country has failed woefully in that regard.

“Recently, the NCDC raised alarm that about 42 government owned laboratories mostly tertiary hospital-based laboratories failed to test COVID-19 samples, send results for inbound and outbound travelers. What a shame!”

Further, he said Nigeria has no proper framework and workplan only a proposal.

“It is rather a proposal and not a plan. A plan entails feasible framework and workplan for action.

“In this instance there is neither a credible framework nor outlined feasible action supportive of attaining Country-wide herd immunity against COVID-19 in Nigeria.

“Countries like Israel, United Kingdom, the US even India that had attained herd immunity or at the verge of achieving same had in place very robust framework and workplan backing their target. You don’t mouth targets. It is clearly set and worked towards.”

He lamented that till date, Nigeria is largely dependent on donated COVID-19 vaccines from all corners of the world.

“The pathetic aspect of it all is that it is also the same donors that are funding and driving the logistics of its state-by-state distributions and supporting the scaling up of COVID-19 vaccine uptake by our citizens.

“Just how do we intend to achieve the target of Herd Immunity for COVID-19? Is it by depending on donors for everything?

“Is it by improper stocking of donated vaccines and destroying same by burning when they expire in our hands as was the case with the over a million doses of the donated AstraZeneca vaccine?

“Yet, is it by being clandestine about the procurement of the vaccines? Or the lackluster vaccination activities at the State, local government areas, towns and in most of our hard-to-reach communities.

“In fact, for COVID-19 response mitigation and management including the vaccination programme, we have more of motion without movement.”

Ifeanyi added that that no country in the world with Nigeria’s population, peculiar land size and terrain that lacks capacity for the COVID-19 vaccine production or outright investment which guarantees uninterrupted supply of the COVID-19 Vaccine will be able to achieve herds immunity for COVID-19 in the very near future.

He demanded that Nigeria’s health authorities – the Federal Ministry of Health, the NPHCDA including the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 – must rework their approach and strategy for realistic COVID-19 containment.

Ifeanyi also noted that after what many people referred to as the COVID-19 ‘Pandemic Bazaar’ not much is happening anymore regarding the overall containment of the pandemic in Nigeria besides occasional lock-out of civil servants by the Edo State government, Office of the Head of Service and most recently the Federal Capital Administration (FCTA) Abuja.

“What other laudable strategies are in place to promote voluntary vaccine uptake by Nigerians? The number of our molecular laboratories are declining by the day.

“What root cause analysis has been done to unravel and forestall this ugly development? What sanctions are in place against the government owned laboratories that fail to test COVID-19 samples, send results as alleged by the NCDC, or for the private testing laboratory centres scamming Nigerians and other travellers alike by getting paid upfront and often times not performing the tests? These are the many questions and no answers.

“The target of Nigeria achieving herd immunity against COVID-19 as planned is unrealistic and a mirage,” he stated.

However, studies have also shown that herd immunity can be achieved from natural infection and vaccination, hence the need for Nigerians to take action to protect the vulnerable by practising the safety measures and ensuring they are vaccinated if they are eligible.

To close the huge gap in vaccination, it has become essential that people get the vaccine when available to them and continue to follow existing advice on preventing the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, wearing masks, regular hand washing.

Nigerians should get vaccinated against COVID-19 to stop the spread of the virus.

It is also believed that when people get vaccinated, they not only protect themselves but their family, friends, and community against the disease. The COVID-19 vaccine is free, safe and effective.

Original story on Vanguard

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