If every arrangement sailed smoothly as expected, by now, Nigeria would have taken delivery of 3.92 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The country will be the third West African country to benefit from the COVAX facility, after Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Going by COVID-19 trends, many should be familiar with the name AstraZeneca. It’s a vaccine produced to fight the original coronavirus strain. AstraZeneca, produced in the United Kingdom, is said to be cheaper and easier to transport and store when compared to other vaccines that have been approved for use so far.
owever, with new variants of COVID-19 appearing on the horizon, information gathered from emerging studies, by various experts, indicate that the vaccine could be less effective against the new strains even if it can provide some protection for patients. In our view, that’s too much cold comfort.
Information on the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) website indicate that Nigeria has recorded 1,907 COVID-19 deaths. And this ought to be worrisome. Already, 1,544,008 samples have been tested, confirmed cases are 155,657, active cases 19,909, while discharged cases are 133,841.
There are variants of the virus from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil. These are causing anxiety across the globe and in Nigeria especially. The South African variant is known as B.1.351. Experts claim that the virus contains a mutation that could allow it elude some of the antibodies produced through vaccines.
Meanwhile, the UK variant called the B.1.1.7 was detected in the UK in September last year. Experts aver that this variant can spread easily and cause more infections and sickness, while research has shown it to be 40 to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain.
A survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics in England found that those who tested positive for the variant are more likely to report a persistent cough, tiredness, muscle aches, sore throat and fever compared to those who have the original strain. The survey report also added that patients infected with the variant are significantly less likely to report loss of sense of taste or smell.
Nigeria had detected six new cases of the UK COVID-19 variant in the country. However, there has not been a single detection of the South African variant. The UK variant, in this case, is reported as having several mutations that affect the “spike protein” on the virus surface that attaches to human cells.
Even more disturbing is a recent report by an international agency that a new found Nigerian variant tagged the B.1.525, was first spotted by genome sequence in mid-December in Nigeria and also found in cases in the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere. The report also claims that after only two months, B.1.525 represents over 20 per cent of genomes sequenced in Nigeria.
This, however, should not come as a surprise as different variants of COVID-19 are appearing as it is normal for viruses to mutate. Bearing this in mind, this newspaper suggests that the federal government, while focusing its attention on the purchase of vaccines from abroad, should also commence work towards producing vaccines locally to address the challenges posed by the new variants.
The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHDA), in a media report, disclosed that Nigeria has applied for 7.6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 18.4 million of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and is also putting into consideration the vaccines from Russia and India. This, indeed, is commendable. Still, it is our considered opinion that the nation urgently requires local input into the vaccine project to take care of her peculiar needs.
Similarly, we suggest that, while it would be wise to procure the AstraZeneca vaccine, it will also be advisable to put into consideration the emergence of a Nigerian variant as well as the rate at which the virus is mutating. From this perspective, we consider it expedient for the country to deplore resources into research and development to such a level that a Nigeria made vaccine formulated with the local environment in mind will be in the market soon.
All that is required is for the federal government to engage constructively with Nigerian scientists and laboratories with the potential to produce a Nigerian vaccine to fight COVID-19 and its variants.
The truth of the matter is that the race against COVID-19 appears to be selfish with countries thinking about their citizens first. That is natural. They can only give out leftovers. Nigeria has the capacity not to wait to receive donations in such a critical situation as COVID-19 is. Already, vaccine producers such as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are working to modify their products for better protection against the new South African variant. Nigeria should not be different, as we have to face the reality that, sooner or later we, as Nigerians, will have to start developing our own vaccines as a matter of course. That is the reasonable way to go.