The federal government yesterday stepped up campaigns towards the vaccination of Nigerians against COVID-19 just as it took delivery of 3.94 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, who took delivery of the vaccines, handed them over to the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHDA) and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for further processing.

He also rallied stakeholders such as traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil society organisations and the media, among others, to help propagate the message on why Nigerians should be vaccinated to all parts of the country.

Mustapha led other top government officials to take delivery of the NAFDAC-approved vaccines, which arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, via an Emirates Airline.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar welcomed the arrival of the vaccines, saying that it will herald the full opening of the economy.

The vaccines, which arrived from India, were the first tranche of the 16 million doses expected under the COVAX arrangement.

Mustapha stated that the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccines in the country marked a significant milestone in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.

He stated that for over one year, humanity has remained under the siege of a virus that has impacted lives, livelihood, destroyed economies, governance systems, medical services and socio-economic systems.

According to him, nations around the world have deployed enormous resources to tackle the virus which has seen a first wave and more virulent second wave.

He added that the pandemic has claimed over 2.5 million lives worldwide and still counting.

He said: “Prior to the vaccine phase, we had introduced and promoted the non-pharmaceutical interventions. These remain very valid measures to take under the infection prevention and control policy.

“I, therefore, urge all Nigerians to continue to comply with these measures even as we roll out the vaccines administration plan, which is expected to reach 70 per cent of our population between 2021 and 2022. Under the circumstances, it must continue to be NPIs + vaccines.”

Mustapha stated that the successful development of vaccines and the accelerated process for emergency authorisation have brought hope to humanity.

“Its arrival in Nigeria today has been made possible through purposeful leadership by His Excellency, the president, collaboration with domestic stakeholders, the international community and painstaking technical efforts to ensure that what we are offering Nigerians is safe and efficacious.

“Although this consignment of vaccines is just 3.924 million doses of the expected 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX facility, we are indeed grateful to the coalition that has made this possible for us to receive it,” he said.

He assured Nigerians that the federal government will prioritise the administration of the vaccines in a strategically planned manner to meet the nation’s peculiar needs and cover its heroic health care workers who have sacrificed their all, including their lives, in the cause of caring for the rest of the citizenry.

He stated that the PTF, working with the Federal Ministry of Health and the NPHCDA, will ensure transparency, efficiency and economy under the process.

“It is, therefore, important to assure all Nigerians that their turns for receiving the jab will come,” he said.

Ahead of the full rollout, Mustapha urged “all stakeholders (traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil societies, respectable Nigerians, the media) to carry the message on the significance of being vaccinated to the grassroots and all segments of the society. This is a fight for everyone.”

At the ceremony, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Primary Health Care, Senator Chuka Utazi, said: “We must ensure it gets to the most vulnerable. We will ensure the right quality is given to Nigerians. Nigeria has confirmed its goodness and we must ensure the best.”

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, called on Nigerians to make themselves available for vaccination.

Also speaking, the Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said only eligible population from 18 years and above, including pregnant women would be vaccinated.

He said that the vaccine rollout would be in four phases, starting with health workers, frontline workers, COVID-19 rapid response team, laboratory network, policemen, petrol station workers and strategic leaders.

The Managing Director for Country Programmes at GAVI, Thabani Maphosa, noted that the Vaccine Alliance viewed the delivery of the vaccines as a landmark moment for Nigeria to end the acute phase of the pandemic.

Also, the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, said the delivery of the vaccines represented a major milestone for the COVAX facility in its efforts to deliver at least two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of 2021.

He added that the vaccines have undergone rigorous regulatory processes at the global and country-level and have been deemed safe and effective.

Kallon said the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine would enable the NPHCDA to commence the vaccination of Nigerians in priority groups, starting with frontline healthcare workers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Walter Mulombo, lauded the federal government for its participation in COVAX efforts and its commitment to protecting Nigerians against this pandemic.

Also the UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Mr. Peter Hawkins, said the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines into Nigeria was critical in curbing the pandemic, noting that the only way out of the crisis is to ensure that vaccination is available to all.

“After a year of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, today we celebrate the efforts being made in getting the vaccine to Nigeria,” Hawkins said.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has said the arrival of the vaccines will herald the full opening of the economy.

“I am gladdened at reports of the arrival in Abuja of 3.94 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine via the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Assess Facility, COVAX,” Atiku said in a statement.

He said the vaccines would be a good starting point to begin the vaccination of Nigerians against the pandemic.

“I commend the federal government for this effort and hope that steps to procure more vaccines are underway. This will usher in the process of fully reopening our country and rebuilding our economy and the lives of our people,” he said.