President Muhammadu Buhari has called on the Member States of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) to accelerate efforts towards developing their own vaccines against COVID-19.
Mr Buhari, while speaking at the virtual ordinary summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, on Saturday, said this will help build herd immunities against the COVID-19 pandemic in West Africa.
Represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, the president said the second wave of the pandemic may have a greater impact on the region if proactive measures are not taken.
He said the first wave of the pandemic negatively impacted the health and socioeconomic sectors of the region.
He urged ECOWAS countries to prioritise the acquisition of the approved COVID-19 vaccines for their citizens while they work to develop their own vaccines.
“Now that vaccines are soon to be available, I call on all member states to ensure that we prioritise the acquisition of the vaccines for our citizens while at the same time increasing efforts to develop our own vaccines so that we can build herd immunities against the COVID-19 pandemic in West Africa,” he said.
Mr Buhari also urged the ECOWAS Commission to work with the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) to assist member states in acquiring the vaccines and provide facilities to store and distribute the vaccines within the region.
As COVID-19 vaccines are currently being rolled out globally, most African countries, including Nigeria, are banking on benefitting from the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Assess Facility, or Covax, the World Health Organization-backed programme, which was set-up to divide a billion doses across 92 low- and middle-income countries.
The Nigerian government said it will receive at least 100,000 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech approved COVID-19 vaccines by the end of January through COVAX.
Nigeria’s health minister, Osagie Ehanire, also said efforts are ongoing to secure about 10 million more doses of the approved COVID-19 vaccines for Nigerians.
He said Nigeria is participating in the African Union initiative called “African Vaccine Availability Task Team”, which has secured 270 million doses of various types of vaccines.
“Bearing in mind options suitable for our environment and the available infrastructure, as well as Investment in delivery, Nigeria has written to express interest in 10 million doses of the viral vector vaccine, which could be supplied as from March 2021,” Mr Ehanire said
Rapid Test Kits
On Saturday, Mr Buhari said it is important for the region to start producing the Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) Kits to boost COVID-19 testing capacity.
He said it is important for the region to evolve effective measures and avoid total lockdown at this critical time that “our economies are gradually recovering from the first wave of the pandemic.
“Efforts should also be accelerated for the region to start producing rapid diagnostic test kits of international standards to be made available to all member states.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had, last September, announced the Emergency Use Authorisation of two Ag- RDTs, manufactured by SD Biosensor and Abbott for COVID-19 testing.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recently carried out a national validation of the RDTs during screening of members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
The outcome shows that the RDTs met minimal standards for sensitivity and specificity of COVID-19 diagnostic tests, according to the Director-General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu.
Mr Iheakwazu noted that as more Antigen- RDTs gain authorisation from the WHO, the centre would consider their use in Nigeria.
There is, however, no confirmation yet on Nigeria’s plan to mass-produce it’s own RDT kits. Although some researchers in the country have announced a breakthrough in RDT production.
In June 2020, Christian Happi, a professor of molecular biology and genomics at African Centre for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) at Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, said he developed a rapid diagnostic test kit and ready for deployment.
It is, however, unclear if the RDT kits named SHERLOCK is being used in Nigeria.
Local vaccines production
The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Faisal Shuaib said there are “genuine ongoing efforts by the federal government to restart the process of vaccines production.
Mr Shuaib at a briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 explained that the process of producing a vaccine requires massive investment that has not been done for many decades.
“There are questions around why Nigeria is not producing COVID-19 vaccines. I want to put on record that the process of producing a vaccine is very complex and complicated. It requires massive investment that has not been done for many decades,” Mr Shuaib said.
Nigeria used to produce vaccines in its first few decades after independence in 1960, a process which, suffered a setback due to the decision to adopt more advanced technologies, according to Mr Shuaib.
A 2017 report published by PREMIUM TIMES revealed how the Yaba Vaccine Production Laboratory was not functional.
The vaccine production centre was active for about six decades, between 1940 and 1991, producing large quantities of vaccines against smallpox, rabies, yellow fever for not only Nigeria but neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Central Africa and a few other countries in Africa.
It was closed in 1991 by the federal government who said it wanted to reactivate and upgrade the facility. But that upgrade has not been done.
The former minister of health, Isaac Adewole, in 2017 said the government had decided to set up a joint venture company with May and Baker, a pharmaceutical company in Nigeria, to commence local production of vaccines at the Yaba facility.
Mr Adewole said the country was set to restart producing local vaccines in collaboration with the pharmaceutical giant.
He noted that May and Baker was to assist in the production of local vaccines to improve immunisation routines and reduce dependency on international donors.
However, no significant progress has been made towards vaccine production in the country.
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