BUDGET DELAY CREATES HITCHES IN CORONAVIRUS VACCINE PROCUREMENT

 

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are pictured at the Sheba Medical Center, Israel. Photo: AFP

ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, TUNDE AJAJA,TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN and KAYODE OYERO

The Federal Ministry of Health has yet to submit a budget proposal to the National Assembly for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines — over one month after the legislative arm of government asked the ministry to do so, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.

This has, however, begun to spark fears that the delay may affect the procurement of the much-awaited vaccines.

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, had on December 22, 2020 told the Senate that the Federal Government would need about N400bn to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population. The Senate leadership subsequently asked Ehanire to bring a budget while they promised to give it quick consideration.

Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, the Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, said calculations were still being done, hence the delay in the submission of the budget.

Mamora said Nigeria had yet to decide on what brand of vaccines would be procured but said he was confident that once the budget is submitted, the National Assembly would give it swift approval.

He said Nigeria would take delivery of 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in February while the African Union had also approved millions of doses for the country.

The minister said, “Yes, the funds are not available not because there is no will. We have commitment from the President (Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)) himself but we still have to make the budgetary proposal available to the National Assembly as a form of supplementary budget and we have the commitment of the National Assembly to grant the request.

“The proposal is not yet ready because we want to be sure that it is well put together so that we don’t go back and forth. The second issue is deciding which vaccines to go for because there are many vaccines in the market and we want to obtain the one that will be suitable for our own situation in terms of storage and cost.”

Mamora also said it was easier for smaller countries to get the vaccines than it was for larger countries like Nigeria with a population of over 200 million.

The minister said the third factor responsible for the delay was the various engagements and negotiations that were ongoing between Nigeria and other countries producing COVID-19 vaccines.

When asked if the N400bn estimation would be reduced since Nigeria would be getting vaccines from COVAX and the AU, Mamora said, “The price of some of these vaccines appear to be fluctuating, so it will still be in the realm of projection.

“Also, it is not just about the cost of vaccines but the cost of operations. You also have to buy syringes and you have to pay personnel. You have to make cold chain facilities available. So, all these are involved. It goes beyond the cost of vaccines.”

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