According to the Director General of the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Nigeria lacks the capacity to store the incoming COVID-19 vaccines ordered from Pfizer.
The DG, Prof. Babatunde Salako, who made this known in an exclusive chat with Punch on Saturday, added that the vaccines are set to arrive next week.
Salako further said that there are freezers in different locations in the country where the vaccines can be stored at the recommended temperature of -70°C, but unfortunately these freezers are filled with other medical supplies that require preserving at such low temperatures also.
Responding to a question, Salako said, “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?”
“Even if we rearrange things, I doubt if we can store more than a few hundred or thousands.”
When asked if other facilities besides NIMR could hold such vaccines, he 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.”
He however said that the storage facilities are not the major problem, but how to transport them to Nigeria and around Nigeria at such a temperature.
He added that other vaccines like Oxford, AstraZeneca and that of Russia could be stored at far higher temperatures, making them easier to preserve.
He said, “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 taken in batches.”