The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 chairman, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, and Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, may be part of the nation’s strategic leaders that will be part of those to be vaccinated first when COVID-19 vaccine arrives Nigeria later in the month.
The Executive Director of the NPHCDA, Shuaib, has also offered to take the vaccine in public to prove to Nigerians that it is safe.
Shuaib had at a press briefing of PTF on Tuesday said in administering the vaccine, priority would be given to frontline health workers, first responders (security), and strategic country leadership among others.
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Wednesday, he shed more light on those that formed “strategic country leadership” that will form part of those to be vaccinated first.
The NPHCDA boss said the idea was that those in the forefront of the fight to curtail the virus would be part of those to be vaccinated first in order to boost the confidence of Nigerians.
He said, “When we talked about strategic leaders, we are talking about people like the chairman of the PTF, the Minister of Health, and others.
“This is meant to demonstrate to Nigerians the safety of the vaccine by coming out to be part of those to be vaccinated first.
“As I said earlier, I have also offered to take the vaccine in public to prove that it is safe. Those are the kind of people we are referring to as strategic leaders in this context.”
When asked about the modalities to be adopted in sharing the vaccines to states, Shuaib explained that the government would be prioritizing frontline health workers.
He said the government already had details of those frontline workers.
On storage, he said enough space was available at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
He said because ultra-cool chain equipment was expensive, the government decided to go for vaccines that the country readily had cool chain equipment that could be used to store them.
Shuaib also faulted some virologists quoted to have said it was dangerous to introduce the COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria.
He said there was nothing dangerous about the vaccine which had already been approved by the World Health Organisation.
Meanwhile, the NCDC on Wednesday explained why the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 directed that all schools in the country should remain shut till January 18.
The NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, who stated in response to an inquiry by one of our correspondents, said the centre detected increased COVID-19 cases in schools and offices.
Ihekweazu also said as part of efforts to battle COVID-19 second wave, the NCDC had deployed more rapid response teams to states.
Recall that following the outbreak of COVID-19 second wave, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, at its press conference on December 21, said all schools in the country would remain shut till January 18.
Ihekweazu, in his response to The PUNCH’s questions, said the agency noticed a surge in COVID-19 cases in settings such as schools and offices.
He stated, “In the last two months, there has been a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country. This has affected nearly every state in the country. We also detected an increase in the number of cases in closed settings such as schools and offices.
“The decision to keep schools closed was to among other things, enable us to control this rapid spike in cases while reducing the risk to children and school staff.”
Advising states on reopening of the institutions, he said they should “ensure they have put the appropriate measures in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread in schools. Physical distancing, hand washing and use of face masks are critical measures that have to be adhered to, but also require resources to implement in schools.”
The director-general also said that it was the duty of state governments to keep COVID-19 testing laboratories functioning, adding that the NCDC would continue to offer the necessary support.
Responding to a claim by some state governments that it was not their function to conduct tests, he explained, “At the beginning of 2020, we started supporting laboratories across states to establish testing capacity for COVID-19. By the end of October 2020, every state in Nigeria had at least one public health laboratory for COVID-19.
“Most of these laboratories are located within existing structures of tertiary hospitals but established to meet the testing needs of states. Our role at the NCDC is to coordinate the network of public health laboratories. We have done this over the years for Lassa fever, yellow fever, cholera and other diseases.
“In this role, we coordinate uniform testing across the country by ensuring laboratories use the same algorithm, provide equipment, reagents, and supplies needed for testing, ensure quality assurance, provide training and capacity building support.
“Every state is responsible for ensuring laboratories function to meet the need of the state, while the NCDC continues to support in this regard.”
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continued to meet with state epidemiologists every two weeks, and with state governors through the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and the National Economic Council chaired by His Excellency, the Vice President.
“We have maintained small teams across states to support response activities. Following the increase in the last two months, additional rapid response teams have been deployed to more states.”