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A huge showdown which will massively disrupt the COVID-19 vaccination programme, unless urgently resolved, has broken out between the Federal Government and the Lagos State government.
Lagos, being the epicenter of the virus pandemic in the country, is also the centre of the vaccination programme. It was allocated 510,200 doses out of the 3.9 million first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine delivered to the country on March 2 by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The state has been accused of jettisoning the vaccination process dictated by the agency leading the programme – the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).
The Federal Government also said the state has created its own platform through which it is inviting people, thereby vaccinating those not yet qualified based on the phased inoculation arrangement.
As a result of this, NPHCDA Executive Director Dr. Faisal Shuaib has threatened that Lagos may be denied vaccine supply when the next batch is received.
But Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi said last night that “Lagos has been using the NPHCDA platform”, but explained that “the platform has on numerous occasion failed to pre-register residents and schedule citizens in an orderly manner.”
He added that the state had continued to engage the IT staff of the Federal Government agency “to resolve these issues.”
Dr. Shuaib, speaking on an NTA programme yesterday said: “If it turns out after our investigation that Lagos State has a different platform and they are using it for this process, then they stand the risk of actually being barred from getting further vaccines. These vaccines are being provided by COVAX, and have been donated by different organisations and they are very clear about accountability for the vaccines. If Lagos State is using a different platform, then we cannot account for those vaccines the way they are supposed to be accounted for. And if we cannot account for the vaccines, the donors will be very clear that we cannot send vaccines to those states.
“No state will also be allowed to procure vaccines on their own. This is a policy of the Federal Government. I hope that it is not correct that they have a different website because that will be wrong on the part of the commissioner of health. And that means that he has not been communicating honestly with the Federal Government. But I know him to be a man of good standing in terms of his interactions. We will have to investigate, but it will be a very bad development if they developed a different platform.
“The platform that NPHCDA and our development partners have developed is a platform that is working very well. There are times when it will have issues but that happens with every situation where there are internet challenges and where a lot of people are trying to access a platform. This platform has been optimised.
“This is part of a pilot for a larger-scale rollout that we are expecting. So whatever teething problems that we are having right now, it is better we fix them because this is a two-year potential programme of vaccinating over 100 million Nigerians. This is just less than two weeks and so whatever challenges we are facing right now, we need not quit. We must be resilient to fix whatever issues that come up and move together as a country.
“I will be reaching out to the governor of the State to find out if this information provided is correct – it will be very unfortunate if it is.”
He added: “The information that we have is that people who are not eligible in this first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination are going through the back doors in collusion with officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Health and they are actually accessing the vaccine.
“We have been very clear that we have phased the process of accessing these vaccines into four. The first phase is for those frontline health workers, their support staff and other health workers, and first responders, that is, people who are likely to come in frequent contact with crowds. We have also pointed out that because we need our strategic leaders to symbolically take the vaccines by actually indicating the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, they are also categorised in the first phase.
“The second phase is for those individuals who are elderly, – those who are 50 years and above. The third phase is for those who have comorbidities – people who have underlying diseases that are likely to worsen when they contract COVID-19. These are people who have hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. The fourth phase is for anybody who is 18 years and above.
“What we are getting from the reports so far is that there are some centres in Lagos, particularly the Falomo Clinic, where this framework is not being followed.
“The information that I got from the Lagos State Government is that this is being investigated. We had hoped that the report would be available before now, but again we checked back yesterday (Tuesday) and realised they were just finalising the report.
“The case in Falomo matters because it sends a very negative signal that there is lawlessness and that we are people who are not following guidelines. If we allow it to go unabated, then it becomes a situation where allcomers will want the vaccines. What we are seeing is that contrary to all the social media hypes that the vaccines are not going to be taken, we see a lot of demand for the vaccines actually.
“We have a situation where the common saying is that Lagos is the Centre of Excellence and the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. I think this crisis around the management of vaccines will be a litmus test as to whether Lagos is also the North Star when it comes to integrity, ethics and implementation of our programmes. and I know the governor is on top of the situation and the Commissioner is trying to resolve this issue.”
Explaining how Lagos State has allegedly been breaching the rule, the Director General of the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Prof Babatunde Lawal Salako, said: “What has happened is that Lagos State has its own platform which is different from the platform created by the NPHCDA. And the Lagos State platform is not a public one. I got to know this when they came to vaccinate at NIMR. They were registering people as they were being vaccinated. I did ask if that registration platform is open to people, and the lady told me it is not. So they are the only one doing the registration. That then means that they do not have any structured way of inviting people to come and get vaccinated. If that happens, what we have seen is the kind of thing that we are going to be seeing because everybody will scramble for the vaccine, and will do anything to get vaccinated, especially if these are people who have the well-withal to do this.
“I did register on the NPHCDA platform and it worked very well. They actually allocated me to a nearby health centre where I am supposed to go and get vaccinated. But then, when Lagos State started to vaccinate, this was not being used. So there is a need for Lagos State and the NPHCDA to discuss to determine which of the platforms is going to be used. Otherwise, Nigerians will stop registering when they see that the registration is not as useful as they thought.”
‘Lagos working to resolve all issues’
Lagos State government is not using a parallel platform to pre-register residents for vaccination against COVID-19 infection, Health Commissioner Prof Akin Abayomi said on Wednesday.
He was reacting to an allegation by the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib that it was bypassing the authorised e-registration portal.
Abayomi said the state has been working with officials of the agency to make exercise stress-free for Lagosians at the registration and vaccination centres.
He said: “The Lagos State Ministry of Health has been using the NPHCDA platform to administer the vaccines provided by the Federal Government. However, the platform has on numerous occasions failed to pre-register residents and schedule citizens in an orderly manner resulting in over-crowding of the vaccination sites as well as the inability of staff to control the phased approach proposed by the NPHCDA. We have continuously engaged the Information Technology staffs of NPHCDA to resolve these issues and some progresses have been made.
“We are now going to encourage all Lagosians hoping to be vaccinated according to the qualification criteria for phase I to strictly utilise the preregistration portal of the NPHCDA.
Abayomi added: “The platform is not foolproof, but to say we have abandoned it is simply not true. There is also currently no other platform in use other than the platform introduced by the NPHCDA.
“There are serious over congestion problems at the 88 designated sites, which have resulted in situations that may contribute to the continuous spread of the COVID-19 virus, but we are doing our best to keep the NPHCDA system going in the best tradition of excellence that Lagos State strives to attain.
“We have also provided security at the vaccination sites and deployed staff to ensure that the vaccines are not diverted for any other use other than intended. Our staff are well trained and committed to ensuring that we have a seamless experience.
“Despite the challenges, Lagos State has vaccinated almost 88,000 residents to date, which is testament to our collaborative efforts. We won’t be distracted and will continue to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of all residents is paramount and remains the focus of the Lagos State COVID-19 Incident Command System, of which the executive governor of the state himself is the Incident Commander.”