Nigeria: More than 45 million people vaccinated against yellow fever during the COVID-19 pandemic

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One Shot Vaccine for Lifelong Immunity

Monday, August 8, 2022

In 2016, deadly yellow fever outbreaks in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo put the African continent on guard against this disease. Nigeria has been identified as a high-risk country with 160 million people at risk. 66 million have been vaccinated, including 45 million during the peak of coronavirus contamination. Unlike products used as COVID vaccines that require the purchase of a dose at 20 euros every 6 months, a single injection of the yellow fever vaccine is enough to be immunized for life.

“I lost my second son to yellow fever. It was a very traumatic experience for my family and me,” says Muhammed Awal, a father of five from Taraba State in Nigeria. “We rushed the boy to the hospital when he started showing symptoms of the disease, and he died two or three days later, as his internal organs were severely damaged.”

Muhammed describes the tragedy of his family and the efforts to ensure the protection of the rest of his children in one of two films commissioned by the Strategy for the Elimination of Epidemics of Yellow Fever or OJO. EYE’s goal is to eliminate yellow fever epidemics by 2026, with a single-shot vaccine that confers lifelong immunity and aims to protect almost a billion people in Africa and the Americas.

25% of people at risk in Africa are in Nigeria

In 2016, deadly yellow fever outbreaks in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo put the African continent on guard against this disease. The EYE strategy, a partnership between the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, was established in response and identified Nigeria as a high-risk country.

Nigeria’s population is approximately 200 million, of which 160 million are at risk of contracting yellow fever. This represents about 25% of all people at risk in Africa. Yellow fever is a virus transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Dr. Anne Eudes Jean Baptiste, Medical Director of the World Health Organization in Nigeria, explains: “Yellow fever is dangerous because a small percentage of patients will go through a more toxic phase of the disease. At that time they will have fever, system failure, mainly in the kidneys and liver. They can bleed from the mouth, nose and eyes and within 7 to 10 days half of them will die.

Nigeria, home to some of the most densely populated cities in the world, is at risk of exposure to the disease in both urban and sylvatic (jungle) areas. Jungle exposure is the transmission of yellow fever by mosquitoes that have bitten animals and nonhuman primates. Workers in mining and agriculture are particularly vulnerable to this type of transmission.

Yellow fever outbreak in 2017

In 2017, there was a resurgence of yellow fever in Nigeria after 15 years. This is due to gaps in disease detection rather than the absence of virus transmission and the cyclical nature of sylvatic transmission. As surveillance and laboratory testing became stronger, better information became available on the distribution of the disease in humans.

Dr. Ifedayo M. O Adetifa, Director General of the Nigerian Center for Disease Control, explains: “We have significantly strengthened surveillance. We have reference laboratories in the country that have been strengthened and are being supported and evaluated to ensure that they meet all performance parameters in terms of sample collection and referral to our reference laboratories in Abuja.”

In a documentary about a vaccination campaign in the state of Taraba, Dr. Adetifa explains that “despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, we have distributed more than 66 million doses [1] in 2020 and 2021 to protect people from yellow fever outbreaks. This achievement has been made possible through routine vaccination as well as mass vaccination campaigns that identify population gaps and proactively target vulnerable communities.”

Brazilian vaccine against yellow fever. (Photo Agência Brasil Fotografias, CC BY 2.0

via Wikimedia Commons)

[1] This number was estimated at the time of filming. The actual number of preventive and reactive mass vaccination campaigns is 45 million during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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