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Unstable electricity may rob rural dwellers of vaccine access — Clinicians

Public health experts say poor power supply, especially in the rural areas, may hinder Nigerians at the grassroots from gaining access to COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the experts, while the cold chain storage has not been a problem in the developed countries where vaccination has taken off full blast, lack of power supply infrastructure in Nigeria, particularly in the rural areas, could be a big challenge to ensuring proper storage of the COVID-19 vaccines at the appropriate temperature. 

They noted that while the power supply is a general problem in the country, the challenge may be worse in the rural areas where irregular power supply is very rampant.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in separate interviews, the public health experts, Consultant Clinical Pharmacist, Dr. Kingsley Amibor; and Clinical Pharmacist (Cardiology Specialist), Adebola Lawal, warned that if the cold chain storage was not properly handled, the vaccine could become useless by the time it is being administered

 Recall that the Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, had, last week, said Nigeria now has the ultra-cold chain to store vaccines expected in the country.

The NPHCDA boss, while giving an update on COVID-19 vaccine introduction in Nigeria,said the Federal Government had invested in cold chain equipment and that the focus was to get vaccines that the storage facility could effectively manage.

However, speaking with our correspondent, Dr. Amibor, who is also the national chairman of the Nigerian Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists, said storing and distribution of the vaccine could still be a big challenge in Nigeria.

 “Storing and distribution of the vaccines in our part of the world might pose some challenges, quite unlike what might be the case in the UK and other leading countries.

“For one, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept extremely cold. It is supposed to be at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is colder than winter in the Antarctica.

“Moderna has said that its vaccine needs to be frozen, too, but only at minus 20 degrees Celsius, more like a regular freezer. 

“Now, you and I know the challenges we are experiencing locally with regular electricity. How possible will it be to maintain the Pfizer vaccine at minus 70 degrees Celsius? So, maintaining the cold chain will present some challenges, no doubt.

“For the Moderna vaccine that is supposed to be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius, that might be easier to sort out than the Pfizer vaccine. These challenges may be worse off in the rural areas where irregular electricity supply is very rampant.

 “So, we have to address these daunting challenges.We have to ensure appropriate storage of the vaccines to maintain the cold chain because if those vaccines are exposed to high temperatures, they become denatured and useless to anybody.

“So, this issue of maintaining the cold chain will need to be looked into by the government,” Amiborsaid.

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