By Chioma Obinna
LAST weekend, the World Health Organisation, WHO denied the purported media report of the disqualification of Nigeria from the vaccine through the Pfizer-BioNTech COVAX facility. Nigeria will now benefit from the 16 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine allocation.
However, criticism trails Nigeria’s exclusion as the 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines expected to arrive in Nigeria this month was no longer feasible.
Good Health Weekly spoke to a renowned Medical Laboratory Scientist and a Public Health Analyst, Dr Casmier Ifeanyi.
Ifeanyi said Nigeria is yet to get its act together in the procurement of vaccines. For him, while queuing behind WHO/COVAX facility is good, Nigeria should rise up and build capacity in-country for sustainable production of vaccines. Excerpts:
Is Nigeria on track to rollout COVID-19 vaccines and start immunisation?
I want to urge the Nigerian government to do everything possible to keep faith with Nigerians on this new expectation for the delivery of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by the 2nd of March 2021.
Initially, some of us have raised our voices that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is a more friendly vaccine that fits into the current cold chain capacity that we have in Nigeria. Nigeria over time has established cold chain system that supports the storage and transport and administration of vaccines that require 2 to 8 degrees.
We have the capacity for that and it is not in doubt. So choosing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine gives us something more amenable to our temperate nature and I expect that that is what we should do.
We have not gotten our act right in accessing the vaccine and that is why we were told it would come in early January.
Early January came and went, we were also told it would come by the end of the month, end of the came and went, and we were told it would come in February, now the next possible date has been put on 2nd March 2021.
There is now a major shift from our interest in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which is commendable because we are getting 16 million doses.
That will deal with about 10 per cent of the Nigerian population. It is reasonable. It will help us protect our vulnerable groups and it will also help us protect our healthcare workers.
By and large, this vaccine is not an end. The protection of the vaccine is not like endless protection. It is short-lived. We should put that in perspective. Of course, that is the only available intervention we have now but we must not put our hopes only in it as if it is the end to everything.
There is a need for us to discipline ourselves to take advisory and comply with non Pharmaceutical Interventions and make sure that it is strictly enforced. This will do us a lot of good probably superior to what the vaccine will do. The vaccine is not even adequate to go around. Imagine 16 million doses as opposed to over 200 million population.
Yes, if the 16 million doses come, it will not even give us the requisite herd immunity that will help to stem the infection. The vaccine is good but it is not an end to the infection.
We need to put that in perspective. Egypt on its own as a country got vaccines for her citizenry. I expect Nigeria to do so. Yes, it is good to work with COVAX and follow, work and rely on WHO but I also do think that as a country that has its own sovereignty, we should also find ways of protecting our people. That is just pragmatic.
Ideal COVID vaccine for Nigeria
The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are of similar origin and similar genetic origin that is the RNA whereas the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is of a non-viral replicate origin.
For me as a scientist in developing countries like Nigeria, AstraZeneca Vaccine is like what we are used to.
For a country with apathy to vaccination, we should be able to convince our people to invest and embrace that particular vaccine that is not a major departure from what is the convention and Nigerians are used to.
I think the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency is beginning to think right. I also want to urge all Nigerians to give them all the support they need at this particular time to be able to succeed.
I am also worried that to date we do not have eggheads that are discussing this vaccine as a sole mandate so that they can rightly advise the government not just on how to continue to depend on the donated vaccines at a huge cost to the country but how to provoke in-country the production of these vaccines.
For example, India is now the leading producer of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine but the research was packaged in the UK but because India has what they call Indian Cerium Institute, a very big vaccine technological manufacturing plant, they have taken over the mass production of the vaccines.
This is what we expect we should be discussing in Nigeria. How do we leverage the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to build in-country capacity to produce vaccines? We must not continue to import vaccines. All our childhood vaccines are all imported. That is not good and that is no longer acceptable.
Impact of new variants on infections in Africa
It has been established across the globe that the UK variant, South African variant and the much talked about Nigerian variant which is yet to be characterised are more infectious. They may not be more deadly but they are more infectious. That is to say that the infective dose of the new variants would have been much smaller than what would have been required by the primary form of the COVID-19.
So if the new variant is more infectious it cannot be divorced from the increasing rise in the number of infections across the globe including Nigeria.
It is not unlikely that it is contributing significantly to the increasing rise.
However, there are other human-related factors largely blamed for the continued rise in new infections, particularly in Nigeria. Our carelessness and non-regard for non Pharmaceutical interventions, our disregard for an advisory to avoid crowded gathering, particularly, in large enclosures like the case of the authorities of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund that gathered their staff for promotional exercise in one small enclosure.
Disregard for such advisory is more of a concern for the disease spread.
Another thing that is adding to it, is the increase in the procurement of negative COVID-19 result, particularly, for those who are moving up and down and international travels. You find out that across the globe today, it is now commonplace that people racket negative COVID-19 tests for travellers. So that for me is a major factor that can account for the increase in the number of infections.
The virus does not travel but people travel. People move from different parts of the world to another and they carry with them all sorts of pathogens that are in them to those countries. And if they have beaten the systems put in place for them not to move those pathogens like procuring fake COVID results, such violations are caused by human factors and that is critical. This is what we can control. If we can control the human factor, I do believe we can bring down the rising number of cases in Nigeria.