BY PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA, ROYAL IBE |
As Nigerians anxiously await the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, health experts and critical stakeholders in the health sector have expressed divergent views on whether to import the vaccines or produce them locally in the country.
This is coming just as the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday marked the first anniversary of its declaration of COVID-19 as a “public health emergency of international concern” by urging the global community to take action to bring the pandemic under control.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a year ago there were fewer than 100 cases of the disease and no deaths outside China, but the world passed 100million reported cases and is approaching 2.2 million deaths last week.
Tedros said vaccines had given the world another window of opportunity to bring the pandemic under control, and it must not be squandered by not sharing the vaccines equitably among rich and poor nations.
“The pandemic has exposed and exploited the inequalities of our world. There is now the real danger that the very tools that could help to end the pandemic – vaccines – may exacerbate those same inequalities,” the WHO chief added.
Tedros challenged the world’s governments and industry leaders to work together to ensure that in the first 100 days of 2021, the vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries.
He also called on those governments to share their excess doses with the WHO-organized COVAX vaccine cooperative, which distributes vaccines to poor nations.
Meanwhile, some of the health experts in Nigeria said if the country had started working on its own vaccine since 2020, it would have been expecting the result by now instead of relying on those from other countries.
They blamed Nigeria’s continuous reliance on foreign products, including drugs and vaccines, on lack of political will and poor funding of research institutes.
But others argue that Nigeria has the capacity but lacks the facilities to produce vaccines and even carry out clinical trials on imported vaccines.
This is just as a report by the BBC hinted that Nigeria and other African countries may have to wait for a long time before getting the vaccines as wealthy countries have almost secured the whole vaccines.
The federal government had earlier announced that the country was expecting the first phase of the vaccines this month but later added that the vaccines were now expected to arrive in February.
Though the federal government is beginning to look inwards, a professor in Virology, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said Nigeria has the capacity to produce the vaccines locally, but lacks the facilities.
Tomori, in an interview with LEADERSHIP Sunday, said the country has talents and scientists to produce the vaccine.
“We lack the facility to produce the vaccine locally. The talents are there, the scientists are there, but the facilities needed to produce the vaccine are not there,” he added.
He said the federal government had however allocated funds for the local production of the vaccine, adding that the government is working with BioVaccines Nigeria Limited, and a joint venture between the federal government and May and Baker Nigeria Plc, to produce the vaccine locally.
While the country awaits local production of the vaccine, Tomori commended the government for discussing with different companies to ensure that it gets to the country.
“We know that western and rich countries are hoarding the COVID-19 vaccines. I want to commend the Nigerian government for not putting its eggs in one basket. As we speak, discussions are going on with different agencies and companies on getting the vaccine,” he said.
The president, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN), Prof James Damen, however said he was not in support of importing the vaccines.
According to him, clinical trial is even a long process, and Nigeria can actually produce its own vaccine because it has all the expertise required.
He tasked the Nigerian government on building its own research institutions and universities to be able to develop its own vaccine rather than importing, adding that it will be more beneficial for the country to produce its own vaccine and export to other countries instead of relying on other countries.
“We can make our own vaccine which will be specific because corona is a virus and viruses undergo mutation. The west is making this vaccine based on the type of coronavirus they have in circulation. So, why should we collect theirs and start vaccinating our people with it?
“We have people that are infected, it’s not enough to say somebody is positive, why can’t we isolate the viruses. But do we have the infrastructure that we can use to isolate this organism.
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) however said it was in support of anything that would not kill but help reduce the pandemic.
In an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Sunday, NMA president, Prof. Innocent Ujah, said vaccines were usually not produced within nine months but noted that the COVID- 19 vaccine is an emergency and therefore, instead of full blown clinical trials which are desirable and required by science, those that have taken the drug would be monitored for effects.
He said, “You know this is emergency authorization so everything is emergency; otherwise vaccines are not produced within nine months but this is an emergency situation and in an emergency, we are looking at prevention and not further disaster.
“So, what would happen is instead of full blown clinical trial which is desirable and which is what science would do, we now talk about validation, we monitor those who take the vaccines for months for what we call untoward effect, not side effect because if you say side effect, every drug has side effects depending on the individual. So when we document this, we would then be in a position to look at what the vaccine is and then in our circumstance this is what we have seen and this is what will happen.”
On facilities, he said; “I was in the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) and I know we were trying to build wards, if you don’t have wards, you don’t have the facility in Nigeria to do clinical trial but I am happy now because l understand that they are building wards, the present administration is building wards to enable the authorizing agency or the certifying agency give us the opportunity to do clinical trial.”
Meanwhile, the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) has argued that Nigeria has all the facilities it needs to carry out clinical trials.
The Head of Department, Pharmaceutical Technology and Raw Materials Development, (NIPRD), Prof. Martins Emeje, said the facilities needed for clinical trial at this stage is that as the vaccines come, it is to be administered on people that have COVID-19, noting that people that have it are already kept in a place where they are being treated. “Meaning that we have the facility for the trial,” he said.
“Even the Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) that is given to the vaccines that are being used is experimental. That means all the vaccines are actually experimental vaccines and if they are experimental vaccines, it means we are only being recruited for phase three clinical trial, we are all part of indirect phase three clinical trial which is not in our favour but for the fact that the vaccine is being paid for whereas the company is supposed to pay for the clinical trial.”
On its part, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) said despite the use of reliance for the EUA, it would note clinical peculiarities in form of serious or adverse events following immunisation in the dossier or application as a guide and caution for what to look out for in each subject after vaccination.
NAFDAC director general, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, who disclosed this recently, however said the agency was discussing with manufactures of candidate COVID-19 vaccines concerning potential EUA, registration or licensing of their product as the case may be.
The agency assured applicants that if Phase 3 clinical data are very convincing and robust with regard to safety and efficacy, and the vaccine has been submitted to the WHO for Emergency Use Listing, NAFDAC would welcome the application for Emergency Use Authorisation in Nigeria.