ON Monday, the Federal Government announced a N10 billion fund to support domestic vaccine production to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
At the briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, PTF, in Abuja, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, revealed that the Ministry of Finance had released the sum to support efforts aimed at developing an indigenous COVID-19 vaccine.
Although the minister said the government, in collaboration with recognised institutions, was already exploring options for obtaining licence for the local production of vaccines, there were no critical information, definite work plan or detailed breakdown about how Nigeria plans to go about it.
We recall that the Federal Government first mooted the idea of local production of vaccines about three years ago when it announced plans to reactivate the defunct Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yaba, Lagos.
Commissioned in 1940, before it was shut down by the Federal Government in 1991, the Yaba vaccine centre was producing enough vaccines for yellow fever, smallpox, rabies, amongst others, for most of the West-African countries and other parts of the continent.
In line with this, a joint venture partnership with May and Baker Plc., known as the Biovaccine Nigeria Limited, BVNL, was floated to commence local production of vaccines at the moribund Yaba facility.
Under the agreement, the Federal Government owns 49 percent shareholding, while May & Baker owns 51 percent. Between 2017 and 2021, BNVL was expected to provide the technology to build and develop local capacity for research and development and local manufacturing of basic vaccines required by the country to improve immunisation routines and reduce dependency on international donors.
The plan was that the BVNL and the Federal Government would collaborate through the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency to ensure that the decrepit Federal Vaccine Laboratory is resuscitated for the production of safe and affordable vaccines for Nigeria and beyond.
Unfortunately, nothing has happened after the announcement of plans and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to kick-start local vaccines production through this joint venture.
Data from the World Health Organisation shows that Africa represents 14 percent of the global population, but has less than 0.1 percent of the world’s vaccine production. Certainly, Africa needs to consider self-sufficiency in vaccine production, and Nigeria is well-positioned to spearhead this revolution.
We commend the national desire for self-reliance in vaccine production. No doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has rekindled attention towards this need to reassess domestic production capabilities of vaccines among other healthcare commodities in the bid to promote self-sufficiency.
Resuscitating Nigeria’s great vaccine industry is not an impossible task if the nation’s antecedents in the production of vaccines are considered.
With the growing demand for vaccines and the glaring unmet need, it is clear that as much as challenges exist in achieving this goal, there are also grave risks in ignoring it. There is no better time than now to reactivate and upgrade the Yaba vaccine facility. Now is the time to restore Research & Development as part of Nigeria’s industrialisation process.
Planning to produce vaccines locally is a good vision, but without commitment and a decisive mission, this vision will remain an illusion.