• Only South Africa, Egypt participating in project
• Experts fear phobia may scuttle efforts
Experts are worried that Nigeria is not participating in the ongoing clinical trials on COVID-19 vaccines, unlike South Africa and Egypt. The concern is anchored on the fear that the country might not be able to benefit sufficiently it fails to be actively involved in the critical development process.
A professor of virology and former vice chancellor who chairs the Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Oyewale Tomori, told The Guardian that, in the whole of Africa, only South Africa and Egypt were involved in the Oxford COVID-19 trials. According to him, Nigeria has signed on to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Solidarity drug trials and “it is time to add on the vaccine clinical trials.”
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Tomori, who is also a consultant with the WHO, said there were tremendous benefits to be gained by Nigeria’s participation but added that the Ministerial Committee on COVID-19 Response was in full support of such participation and had recommended an action plan to that effect.
In the same vein, former researcher at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) Abuja, Dr. Simon Agwale, told The Guardian that there were about 15 clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa. He said it was time for Nigeria to build its clinical trial capacity so that the country could participate in important studies .
Agwale, who also chairs the Africa COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing Task Team, said there were plans to ensure that Africa participates in the manufacturing of some of the candidate vaccines on the continent so that we will not be left behind when the world eventually develops a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The danger, however, is that Nigeria might not have access to, especially COVID-19 vaccine immediately after licensure if we don’t participate one way or the other in its development.”
Agwale said the Federal Government must adopt a workable strategy. This, he explained, entails building “a vaccine manufacturing capability so that once the vaccines are licensed, we’ll work out a licensing agreement to manufacture the vaccines locally and/or actively participate in clinical trials, which will allow us better negotiate access with the companies.”
Pharmaceutical chemist and Project Lead of Bloom Public Health, Dr. Chimezie Anyakora, reinforced the caution, noting that Nigeria could not afford continued dependence on external support for public health expertise and medical products. “We need to mature and mobilise local talents and invest in local pharmaceutical manufacturing. We need to have a paradigm shift and work towards building a resilient system,” he said.
According to him, the African Union Commission recently facilitated a programme called the new Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Consortium for COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trial (CONCVACT).
He said the programme was part of the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for stopping the deadly COVID-19 onslaught that had disrupted human activities. The goal, he said, was to prevent severe COVID-19 infections and deaths in African countries, reduce the economic damage caused by the pandemic, and help minimize the general disruption to everyday life.
Anyakora hinted of plans to capture more than 10 late-stage vaccine trials at the earliest, through collaborations with global vaccine developers, sponsors, and African businesses that enable clinical studies.
He said the African group hoped to secure the safety and efficacy data of promising vaccine candidates for its population to validate their launch after approval.
ALSO, there are fears that the growing phobia for vaccines may thwart efforts to protect the world against COVID-19.
Despite recent breakthroughs on ongoing coronavirus vaccine trials globally, a CNN poll found 33 percent of Americans did not want vaccines, for political reasons, distrust for pharmaceuticals and issues of psychological fears. It further confirmed that, even if a new vaccine were licensed, not everyone would be excited.
In Nigeria, there are fears about the controversial Infectious Disease Control Bill at the National Assembly (NASS).
Tomori told The Guardian that there was relationship between vaccine phobia and rejection of the Infectious Disease Bill by Nigerians. Prior to the Bill, there had been rumour about the possibility of using the vaccine to monitor and control people’s lives, just as there were talks about 5G and non-existence of COVID-19 virus itself.
“The Bill only came to reinforce these widely held misconceptions about the disease and the vaccine. The National Assembly was quite insensitive to the issue of public perception or opinion about the vaccine. The Assembly should occasionally escape from their legislative iron box and get to know the opinions and perception of the people they are legislating for. There is a need for better dialogue between legislators and the people on all issues.”
Tomori said the serious negative impact would not only be on people rejecting COVID-19 vaccine, but also on rejection of other life-saving vaccines. He said there would now be a greater mistrust on the whole issue of vaccination and vaccines.
The virologist said the anti-vaccine group was becoming more vocal and not enough was being done to counter false messages on vaccines. “The social media is awash with fake news and outrageous information on vaccines. The situation will only grow worse with the near unlimited and access to the social media loaded with unverified information,” he said.
Managing Director, May & Baker Pharmaceuticals, Nnamdi Okafor, cautioned that Nigerians should be careful in interpretation and reportage of vaccine acceptance surveys by CNN to avoid blowing it out of proportion.
“My personal interpretation of what is happening in the US is that many Americans, especially the Democrats and Independents believe that President Donald Trump administration is putting undue pressure on key healthcare agencies like Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and they seem to be caving in. So confidence on approvals by these agencies is waning.”
A consultant public health physician and Executive Secretary, Enugu State Agency for the Control of AIDS (ENSACA), Dr. Chinedu Arthur Idoko, said there was uncertainty and mistrust, which spanned possibility that the fuss about vaccine might have been borne out of potential personal gains of key players. According to him, there might not have been closer, purposeful scrutiny of the intended vaccines to ascertain and ensure their ultimate safety. “There is also apprehension regarding the rumoured start-off of vaccine trials in Africa (in other words, using Africans as test tools). The above only suggests a probable link of vaccine phobia to rejection of the infectious disease bill.”