The first case of Covid-19 in Nigeria was recorded on February 27, 2020 in Lagos, and as of end-September 2021 around 205,800 confirmed cases and 2720 deaths had been recorded. The country experienced its first wave of the virus in the middle months of 2020, a larger wave at the end of 2020 and into 2021, and a third wave emerged in July 2021.
Controlling the Spread
When the scale of the pandemic became clear, a Presidential Task Force (PTF) was established on March 9, 2020 to coordinate government efforts to contain the spread of the virus. The PTF was the main decision-maker behind school closures and movement restrictions, gathering scientific evidence to guide public policy. However, critics believed the initial response was slow, citing that land and air borders were not closed until the end of March 2020, and that the first lockdown was limited to Lagos State, Ogun State and the Federal Capital Territory despite evidence of transmission across the country.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), established in 2011, has also been at the fore of the government response to the virus. Since the onset of the pandemic, the NCDC has established isolation and treatment centres dedicated to Covid-19 patients; trained health workers in treating the virus; and distributed personal protective equipment across all states.
Challenges remain for controlling the virus in 2021, primarily large public funding gaps; insufficient capacity for testing; mistrust among the public of government policy; low compliance with virus-reduction measures such as social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing; and questions about access to and distribution of vaccines. To this last point, on March 2, 2021 Nigeria received its first shipment of 3.9m doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine via the COVAX Facility, a partnership between Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the World Health Organisation (WHO); the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; UNICEF; the World Bank; and multiple other stakeholders to ensure the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines globally. Combined with the 100,000 doses from the government of India, Nigeria received over 4m doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for the first phase of the vaccine rollout, which targeted frontline workers. Nearly 4m people received at least one dose by the end of the first phase in July 2021. The second phase was launched in mid-August of that year after the government received 4m doses of the Moderna vaccine, 1.4m doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and 1.1m doses of Johnson & Johnson.
As of February 2021 Nigeria expected to receive a total of 84m doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which are anticipated to cover 20% of its 200m-strong population. At a press conference that month Dr Osagie Ehanire, the minister of health, said 41m of the doses were set to come from the Africa Union, while Dr Faisal Shuaib, executive director and CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said the country was “exploring multiple payment options” to secure the vaccines, including a deal with the African Export-Import Bank to make repayments over the next five to seven years. The government’s goal is to have 70% of the population vaccinated by the end of 2022, although concerns remain over whether there is sufficient funding and the necessary infrastructure to distribute the vaccine widely and efficiently.
Private Sector Involvement
The government has called on private sector support for vaccine procurement and distribution. In March 2021 South Africa-headquartered telecoms giant MTN announced that it would donate a total of 7m doses to African countries, with Nigeria to receive 1.4m doses. The first 300,000 doses were delivered in the middle of that month. The government has also tapped the private sector to assist with providing the ultra-cold storage and transportation facilities that are necessary for certain types of the vaccine prior to distribution.