Since the Omicron variant of the coronavirus emerged, there have been concerns that existing COVID-19 vaccines and treatment could be less effective against it.
The new variant, which according to researchers shows an “extremely” high number of mutations, has been reported in more than 50 countries of the world including Nigeria, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has warned of the impending fourth wave of the pandemic in the country, noting that the positivity ratio has since increased to as much as 6 per cent in the past week as against 0.1 per cent as of the middle of November.
However, to mitigate the spread of the new variant, manufacturers are testing the efficacy of their vaccines against it.
Among the existing COVID-19 vaccines, the United Kingdom (UK) only recognises four manufacturers of the vaccines used in Nigeria: the Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson.
The manufacturers say the existing vaccines may not be totally effective against the new variant of concern.
For Moderna, its existing COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as they have been on other variants.
The company’s chief executive officer, Stephane Bancel, in an interview with Financial Times, said the company could work on the production of COVID-19 booster shot targeted at the Omicron variant tested and ready for U.S. authorisation as soon as March.
Similarly, Johnson and Johnson said it was testing blood serum from participants in various trials to look for neutralising activity against the Omicron variant. It was also pursuing an Omicron-specific vaccine and would progress it as needed.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) which approved AstraZeneca maintained that its vaccine which was developed with Oxford University is still under examination on the impact of Omicron on it, hoping that its combination drug would retain efficacy.
Pfizer said a three-shot course of their COVID-19 vaccine was able to neutralise the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test, an early signal that booster shots could be key to protection against infection from the newly identified variant.
Omicron in Nigeria
On December 1, 2021, Nigeria joined the growing number of countries that have recorded the first cases of the Omicron variant.
The country has so far recorded six cases of the variant in persons with recent travel history to South Africa in November.
Meanwhile, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Ifedayo Adetifa, recently recommended vaccination as a means of reducing the spread of the new variant.
He said;,”All viruses naturally mutate over time and will continue to happen as long as the world does not act in concert to significantly reduce transmission through vaccination and adherence to effective public health measures such as mask use, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and ensuring good ventilation.”
In the wake of the Omicron variant in Nigeria, the government disclosed plans to begin the administration of the COVID-19 booster doses for eligible Nigerians from December 10, across all states of the federation.
A statement released by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) on Friday, noted that the booster doses will only be administered on Nigerians who have completed the two doses of Astrazeneca, Moderna or Pfizer Bio-N-Tech or one dose of Johnson and Johnson vaccines, for persons 18 years and above.
According to the executive director, NPHCDA, Faisal Shuaib, a COVID-19 booster dose “gives greater protection against the virus.”
Before the discovery of the Omicron variant, which has heightened concerns on how to curb the spread of COVID-19, Nigeria had set a goal of vaccinating 40 per cent of its estimated 206 million population before the end of 2021, and 70 per cent by the end of 2022.
According to the latest Reuters COVID-19 tracker, Nigeria has administered at least 10,917,191 doses of COVID vaccines so far.
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