Nigeria received its first COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday to kick off an inoculation programme in Africa’s most populous nation, delivered under the international COVAX scheme.
The West African nation of 200 million people took delivery of 3.92 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Nigeria is the third West African country to receive COVAX shots, after Ghana and Ivory Coast, which have both started vaccination campaigns.
Dozens of Nigerian officials, wearing yellow high-visibility jackets and facemasks, met the flight delivering the vaccines on the airport tarmac in Abuja.
“The successful development of vaccines and the accelerated process for emergency authorisation has brought hope to humanity all over the world,” said Boss Mustapha, chairman of Nigeria’s presidential task force on COVID-19.
The government aims to start by vaccinating frontline healthcare workers, the highest-priority recipients, in Abuja on March 5, followed by strategic leaders on March 8.
Mustapha said the government expected to receive 84 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from COVAX this year, enough to inoculate 20% of the population.
COVAX, led by the vaccine alliance Gavi, and the World Health Organization (WHO), with UNICEF as an implementing partner, aims to deliver nearly 2 billion doses worldwide by the end of 2021.
Peter Hawkins, the Nigeria country representative for UNICEF, said Nigeria’s extensive experience in combatting infectious diseases, most recently the eradication of wild polio, would facilitate the rollout of COVID-19 doses.
“We will use the polio network to be able to ensure that people in the most extreme areas are reached as quickly as possible,” Hawkins said.
Ghana and Ivory Coast have begun administering COVAX doses, and Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and his wife took them in an effort to boost public confidence.
Officials have also expressed concern with vaccine scepticism in Nigeria, but food scientist Chinedu Mokeke said people should take the shots and “be happy and move on”.