WASHINGTON — The United States is sending more than 3.5 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, a White House official told VOA on Tuesday.
“We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions,” the official said. “Our vaccines do not come with strings attached. We are doing this with the singular objective of saving lives.”
The 3,577,860 doses, which the White House said began shipping to Nigeria on Tuesday, follows a July donation of 4 million doses of the two-shot Moderna vaccine. The donation was processed through COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative.
Nigeria has reported at least 2,747 deaths from the virus and some 208,000 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization. However, medical officials in Africa and overseas have expressed concern that the African continent’s true COVID-19 situation has been underdiagnosed and underreported.
On the continent, South Africa remains at the epicenter, with at least 88,317 deaths counted by WHO, and more than 2.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious coronavirus.
With more than 206 million people, Nigeria is a lower middle-income country, according to World Bank data. Nigeria has also accepted donations of vaccines from Russia, plus donations of diagnostic and treatment equipment, and test kits from China and South Korea, its Ministry of Health said.
As of this month, just over 7.2 million vaccine doses have been administered, according to WHO. That’s a far cry from the goal shared by Nigerian authorities to vaccinate 40% of its population — about 80 million people — by the end of 2021.
The nation appears to be emerging from a third viral wave, with a height of about 5,000 daily reported cases. The second wave, the nation’s worst, peaked in January, with nearly 12,000 new cases reported in one day, according to WHO data.
In September, U.S. President Joe Biden announced the U.S. would donate 500 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine to low-income and lower-middle-income countries. In all, the United States has now pledged 1.1 billion doses.
But aid groups say this is not enough, coming from the world’s wealthiest nation.
“Despite its claim to be a global leader on COVID-19, the U.S. is hoarding nearly 500 million excess COVID-19 vaccine doses — more than any other country,” said Dr. Carrie Teicher, director of programs at Doctors Without Borders’ U.S. branch. “It’s reckless and dangerous for the U.S. and other high-income countries to be sitting on excessive stocks of COVID-19 vaccines while others — including in many places where MSF (Doctors Without Borders) is battling surges of COVID-19 — are desperate to provide their most vulnerable people with even their first dose.”
U.S. officials have been criticized for urging booster shots for vulnerable Americans while vaccination rates are low in the developing world. The White House casts the controversy over booster shots as a false choice, claiming the U.S. can help vaccinate the world while also protecting Americans.
According to projections by the Oxford University COVID-19 database Our World in Data, only one nation in sub-Saharan Africa — the tiny enclave nation of Lesotho — is on track to meet the target of inoculating 40% of its population with at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of 2021.
Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.