When Covid-19 vaccine was first introduced, people were assured that two doses of the vaccine would immunize them against Coronavirus. Now, we are told that people should take a booster shot to get maximum protection. Has the virus developed resistance to the earlier doses?
As you know, the vaccine was developed about a year after the pandemic began based on the variant of the virus that was circulating at the time. This was unprecedented because the cooperation across the whole of the scientific world and building on the advances made with earlier candidate vaccines following the work done on the SARS and MERS viruses. At that time, it was discovered that two doses of the vaccine confer protection against severe disease and death. When the Delta variant came along, this was more dangerous than the first variant. Luckily, the vaccines still offered protection from severe disease and death. More recently, the new omicron variant which is spreading at an alarming rate emerged. This version of the virus has multiple mutations which makes it more transmissible which means it spreads faster and tests have shown that the protection offered by the two doses was much lower. Hence the need for a booster dose which was shown in recent tests to provide protection against the new variant.
You should remember that the Covid virus is a relatively new discovery, and we are learning about it everyday and as we learn, we must adopt strategies to protect the population from its effects. As long as the pandemic continues, and people are not vaccinated, there is a chance the virus will continue to mutate and may evade the immunological response so we have to be vigilant and protect ourselves from Covid using both pharmaceutical (with vaccines) and non-pharmaceutical means (washing hands, physical distancing and masking up).
Is the third jab for all category of people and demographics or for people of certain age and conditions? Can someone who hasn’t taken the first two shots receive the booster shot?
All persons of 18 years and above that have had their two doses of vaccine and they have reached six months after the second dose are eligible for a booster dose. In country and in this state, we have vaccinated people using the Astra Zeneca and Moderna vaccines, the booster dose will be the Pfizer vaccine. So, if you have not received any of your doses you will have to take both and wait six months to be eligible for the booster. We offer the vaccines across the states in both public and some private facilities, PHCs and General Hospitals. The vaccines are free and safe and so far, we have not recorded any severe side effects in persons we have vaccinated.
Must the booster shot be of the same vaccine brand as the two earlier doses? For example, if someone was earlier vaccinated with AstraZeneca, is it safe to get a Moderna booster shot?
The recommendation is for a person who has received the Astra Zeneca vaccine, his or her booster will be the Pfizer vaccine. For Moderna, you receive a Moderna vaccine as a booster and if you have the Johnson and Johnson then the booster will be Johnson and Johnson.
What is the strategy for Kaduna state to increase the present 10% vaccine coverage in the coming year and what is the target coverage?
We have a very robust plan to ensure that all eligible people get the vaccination. As you know, we are getting the vaccines through the COVAX facility and they come into the country in batches, National Health Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) is responsible for distribution of the vaccines to each state. We have so far had three phases of the vaccination; the first phase was in March when we received Astra Zeneca vaccines. The next phase in July was also AstraZeneca and in September/October, we received Moderna vaccines as well as some Astra Zeneca. In all the phases, we were able to utilize over 95% of the vaccines we received. On Thursday 9th December, the Chairperson of the State Covid-19 Task Force and Deputy Governor, flagged off the mass vaccination of Covid vaccines. This entails vaccination at different sites; the PHCs, General Hospitals, select private facilities, markets, places of worship and other places like tertiary institutions, where there are large eligible populations to boost the numbers of people reached with the vaccines. Our target is to vaccinate 40% of the population by end of January 2022 and 70% of the population by the end of 2022. The more people are protected, the better the population is protected and the less likely the virus will mutate into a strain that may escape the current available vaccines.
Reports indicate that there is still resistance to Covid-19 vaccines, what is the government doing to win over the sceptics?
The hesitancy in accessing vaccines is unfortunately due to lack of information. Unfortunately, there have been all sorts of untrue stories being peddled about, fake clips being circulated on social media and fueled by some persons who have influence. This has created a mistrust in the vaccine and has made some people opt out of vaccination. What we have tried to do as a ministry is to engage persons at all levels, from traditional and religious leaders, communities and individuals to pass the correct information and allay their fears. This has been done through one-on-one interactions, community dialogues and sensitization, radio programmes, and information and educational materials like billboard, handbills, and posters with the correct information and even through social media and the campaign is ongoing.
We are making progress as more people are now trying to get the vaccines every day. I would like to also say that this is not a job only for government. Government has a responsibility to ensure the well-being of its citizens, but it is also a personal responsibility to take care of one’s own health and protect ourselves, our families and loved ones as well as our communities. This is an unprecedented situation, the pandemic has disrupted our lives and livelihoods and we must do everything to restore both. Vaccines, coupled with public health measures like handwashing, respiratory hygiene, wearing of masks in public places, physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings, especially that we have a new highly transmissible variant, is key to that.
Has the Omicron variant been discovered in Kaduna state yet?
We have not found the variant currently in Kaduna state, but we have noticed an increasing number of cases. So, we have taken some samples to the National Reference Laboratory to sequence the type of variant we have. But we know that the virus has been isolated in Nigeria and we must keep taking both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical measures to curtail the spread. People should still wear face masks, wash their hands regularly with running water, avoid large gatherings and maintain social distance of at least one metre.
In terms of symptoms, what is the difference between the Delta variant and Omicron variant of Covid-19?
The symptoms of Covid infection are the same, cough, sore throat, fever, loss of smell and sometimes taste but we have found is that the Delta variant tends to have more severe symptoms and is also more severe in those that are unvaccinated. The omicron variant which recently appeared seems to have less severe symptoms and spreads faster, but studies are still ongoing. So, there is no difference in symptoms but only in severity of symptoms.
So far, what has been the fatality rate across the country, owing to Omicron infection?
We have not heard any reports of fatalities from the omicron variant but as you know this variant was only identified at the end of November, so we are still tracking its effects and outcomes.
-On November 24, a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, B.1.1.529 was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO);
-It was first detected in specimens collected on November 11, in Botswana and on November 14, in South Africa;
-On November 26, WHO named the B.1.1.529, Omicron and classified it as a Variant of Concern (VOC).
-By November 30, 2021, the United States also designated Omicron as a Variant of Concern.
-On December 1, 2021, the first confirmed U.S. case of the variant was identified;
-Similarly, On December 1, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed three cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant in Nigeria;
-A week later, NCDC announced the discovery of three new cases in a statement by its Director General, Ifedayo Adetifa;
-All cases were detected in individuals with travel history to South Africa;
-As at Friday, December 24, NCDC said Nigeria has recorded 49 cases of Omicron COVID variant;
-So far, the Omicron variant has not been found in Kaduna state as at December 20, 2021, but there has been an increasing number of Covid cases;
-Some samples have been taken to the National Reference Laboratory to sequence the type of variant Kaduna state has;
-The symptoms of Covid infections are the same–cough, sore throat, fever, loss of smell and sometimes taste but that the Delta variant tends to have more severe symptoms. Omicron spreads faster.