Nigeria this week added a rotavirus vaccine to its national program that is expected to prevent 50,000 deaths of children per year from the diarrheal disease. But the launch comes amid shortages of the vaccine in countries such as Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania.
The launch Monday coincided with the commemoration of Africa Vaccination Week.
Officials from the World Health Organization, the United Nations children’s agency, as well as Nigeria’s Health Ministry, attended the launch in the capital.
During the event, many young children received the vaccine for free, while authorities urged citizens to embrace the measure.
“They’ll get the opportunity of taking it when they’re taking other vaccines,” said Faisal Shuaib, executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency. “We need to seize this opportunity — mothers, caregivers — so that our children will be protected from this virus.”
Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrheal disease in children under 5 years old. WHO says that globally, up to 200,000 children die each year from the disease.
Authorities say the oral vaccine could prevent up to a third of severe diarrhea cases in Nigeria.
WHO country representative Walter Kazadi Mulombo also attended the launch.
“The introduction of the rotavirus vaccine provides the opportunity to reduce the number of children dying every day from diarrheal disease caused by rotavirus,” he said.
But this month, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline said manufacturing challenges had led to a shortfall of 4 million doses of the rotavirus this year, as well as delays in delivery.
According to GAVI-the Vaccine Alliance, the company already said it would reduce deliveries of the rotavirus vaccine by 10 million a year between 2022 and 2028.
Moses Njoku, a research fellow at Nigeria’s National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, said a shortfall should not be a challenge to Nigeria.
“The issue of them thinning out shouldn’t be a threat to a country like Nigeria if we use our internal potential,” Njoku said. “Nigeria is beginning to see the need to start indigenous efforts to start research and production, development of vaccines, as well as production of known vaccines.”
Njoku also said authorities must take delivery of the rotavirus vaccines in batches to avoid waste.
“If care is not taken, they will not be imported at the right time,” he said, adding that some might ship with little time left before an expiration date. “So, eventually you won’t even use up to 10,000 doses and you have paid the money. The supply chain management system is also very poor.”
For now, authorities will be trying to get as many children vaccinated as possible.