The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who doubles as Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha disclosed on 22, March 2021 that Nigerian scientists had produced at least two local COVID-19 vaccines. According to the PTF Chairman, the vaccines were currently awaiting clinical trials and certification before they would become useful in the fight against COVID-19.
He also called on all relevant agencies to provide the required support and enabling environment for the smooth conduct of the remaining protocols for the certification of these vaccines with a view to encouraging and motivating other researchers.
Following Africa’s limited capacity to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, many countries in the continent have been focusing on importation. Asides the fact that international cooperation on COVID-19 has generally been very disappointing, the greater willingness on the part of the international community to cooperate on vaccine distribution is more encouraging – notably the COVAX initiative, co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO.
However, vaccines are likely to be in short supply soon. COVAX has, within it, a country-allocation criterion (per capita based). In the words of Africa CDC Director, Dr John Nkengasong, the COVAX plan is unlikely to be enough and Africa will have to be proactive in securing vaccines. In fact, once vaccines are available in much of the world, Africa will not have them in the quantities required to support continental immunity. This will have serious consequences both economically and politically for African governments.
The $5 billion plan by AfrEXIM to acquire vaccines for the continent cannot also be relied upon completely. In view of this, the Federal Government had released $10 billion to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines.
Now that the made-in-Nigeria vaccines have reached certification stage, excitements are kicking for the seamless opportunities a successful trial might bring. However, Nigerians, to a large extent, are known for undervaluing everything from their country. Products from Nigeria enjoy little or no patronage compared to foreign ones. If it is not from such foreign countries as Italy, and USA, then it cannot be trusted. Funnily, Made-in-China products which are ordinarily known for their “duplicity” are given more prominence than Made-in-Nigeria goods. The patronage for foreign ideas from goods to services is pervasive and cut across all strata of the Nigerian society.
With this pervasive attitude, analysts are asking where it leaves the made-in- Nigeria vaccines. What chances do they stand over foreign vaccines like the AstraZeneca vaccines and those from Pfizer?
Meanwhile, it is important to mention that the government and major stakeholders have made several efforts to acquire vaccines for Nigeria. The recent efforts of donor agencies was on Sunday, March 21, 2021 where the PTF received 300,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from MTN Nigeria, which was acknowledged with thanks as other partners were encouraged to contribute towards the fight against COVID-19.
The efficacy of the vaccines has been ascertained. Even as Nigeria took delivery of 3.92 of the expected 16 million doses of the vaccine, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 through its chairman, Mr Boss Mustapha, declared as safe and efficacious, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
In spite of all these, the vaccines themselves have met with hesitancy. Good numbers of Nigerians have been adamant and indicated their unwillingness to receive the vaccine. In this league, Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, leads. He went from stating that he is healthy and won’t take the vaccines to spreading the notion that the vaccine jabs were intended to kill people.
According to the Kogi State Governor, “Vaccines are being produced in less than one year of COVID-19. There is no vaccine yet for HIV, malaria, cancer, headache and for several other diseases that are killing us. They want to use the (COVID-19) vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill you and us. God forbid.”
By the time his party, the ruling All Progressive stepped in to do the damage control by challenging the governor to stop making such careless statements it was already too late. The news, like wildfire, had already spread.
Meanwhile, while speaking following the disclosure of made-in-Nigeria vaccines undergoing trial, Boss Mustapha gave the impression that the PTF was having difficulty sensitising Nigerians on the efficacy of the vaccines being deployed.
According to him, there was a sensitisation meeting of the Muslim scholars and Imams on COVID-19 vaccination rollout, which was organised by the NPHCDA, in collaboration with the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), where they urged the leadership of the Muslim Ummah to mobilise and educate their adherents to take the vaccines because it was safe and efficacious. While this is good, the suspension of the use of AstraZeneca vaccines in some countries around the world exacerbates the vaccine hesitancy war.
Although the World Health Organization and Europe’s medicines regulator say there is no indication of a link between the vaccine and reports of blood clots, Netherland became the latest to suspend the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine over concerns about possible side effects.
Two years ago, the WHO listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health. WHO defined it as the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services. The issue of vaccine hesitancy is particularly important because it goes beyond public health to include economic recovery and global resuscitation.
As pundits noted, while most vaccine hesitancy are mostly focused on parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children, in the case of COVID-19, children are not likely to be the number one priority.
Indeed, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be unique by prioritising adults over children. Other issues include the fact that since Africa has been less severely affected by COVID-19, they could be less inclined to worry about the importance of vaccination.
Nevertheless, analysts believe that if the made-in-Nigeria vaccines can successfully undergo clinical trial, it would be a significant milestone that would open a new vista in scientific breakthroughs and boost the morale and image of the medical industry in the country.
Nigeria will also be able to supply to other countries within and outside the continent. This is coupled with the economic and social benefits that comes with it. But whether Nigerians will give it a chance in the face of the persistent vaccine hesitancy and a disregard for what is inherently made-in-Nigeria appear to cast some shadows on this emerging significant breakthrough.