Eniola Akinkuotu, Abuja
The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research says there is not enough space at the moment to store the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines which are expected to arrive next week.
The Director-General of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako, said this during an interview with The PUNCH on Saturday.
Salako revealed that Nigeria had freezers in different parts of the country to store the Pfizer vaccines at -70 degrees centigrade.
He, however, said most of these freezers were occupied and were storing medical supplies which also need to be stored at a low temperature.
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.”
Salako said storage was the minor problem, adding that the major challenge would be how to transport the vaccines at the temperature of -70 to rural areas.
The NIMR boss argued that in the future, Nigeria may need to buy other brands that do not require such low temperature like Pfizer.Salako noted that other brands like Oxford/AstraZeneca could be stored at normal freezer temperature while the Russian vaccine could also be stored at a temperature not as low as Pfizer.
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.”