The Director General, Prof. Babatunde Salako of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), has recently said there is not enough space at the moment to store the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines which are expected to arrive this week.
He revealed this during an interview on Saturday with The Punch that Nigeria had freezers in different parts of the country to store the Pfizer vaccines at -70 degrees centigrade but that most of these freezers were occupied and were storing medical supplies which also need to be stored at a low temperature.
He added that their facilities can hold Pfizer vaccines at -70 degrees but they don’t have enough of such freezers, noting that the ones they have are even full at the moment and they have one that they are even yet to install.
“Even if we rearrange things, I doubt if we can store more than a few hundred or thousands,” he said.
Salako 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 the content are evacuated, he doesn’t think they will all be able to do more than a few thousands”.
The DG 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.
In addition, Nigeria may need to buy other brands that do not require such low temperatures as Pfizer, the NIMR boss explained
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.”