The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) has revealed that it does not have enough space to store the COVID-19 vaccines expected to arrive in the country between January and February 2021.
Professor Babatunde Salako, Director-General of NIMR, disclosed this in an interview on Saturday.
Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, had on 5 January announced that 100,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine would arrive in Nigeria by the end of January.
The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at an extremely cold temperature of -70 °C in order to guarantee its efficacy after inoculation.
Salako explained that Salako the country has freezers in different parts of the country to store the Pfizer vaccines at the required temperature.
He, however, said most of the freezers were occupied and were storing medical supplies, which also needed to be stored at a cold temperature.
“Our facilities can hold Pfizer vaccines at -70 degrees but we don’t have enough of such freezers and the ones we have are even full at the moment. We even just got one that we have yet to install but how many samples can it even hold?” Salako told the Punch.
“Even if we rearrange things, I doubt if we can store more than a few hundreds or thousands.”
When asked if other facilities apart from those at NIMR could store the vaccines, Salako said: “There are many -80 freezers around in the research institutes and universities but the point is that many of them have samples inside them. So, even if we evacuate, I don’t think we will all be able to do more than a few thousands.”
The NIMR Director-General stated that storage was a minor problem, explaining that the major challenge would be how to transport the vaccines at the temperature of -70 to rural areas.
He said it is safer for the country, when making future procurement, to buy vaccines that will require minimum refrigeration due to power supply issues and will be suitable for its existing storage facilities.
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He recommended that the Federal Government purchases the UK’s Oxford/Astra-Zeneca and/or Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines.
“The problem is not just about storing vaccines but moving it to the rural areas and maintaining that same temperature. For example, if you land in Lagos and you store it at -70 and it has to be transported over the creek somewhere, how do you move them? There are other ways but they will be very costly. They can store them with liquid nitrogen or even dry ice but it will cost a lot of money.
“AstraZeneca would have been better because it would stay at normal freeze temperature and I think even Russian vaccines can be stored at the same temperature but I think the government is going with Pfizer because the World Health Organisation has given it an emergency approval.
“But I think all the vaccines are now being deployed in many countries. So, we can do all of them rather than do just one considering the storage capacity for Pfizer. Even the government knows that we don’t have enough space but we can be taking in batches.”