COVID-19: Nigerians ponder alternatives as countries scramble for vaccines

Nigeria, like many other countries of the world, is experiencing the second wave of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

More and more people are getting infected by the day as the daily reports by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) show. As at 2.41pm yesterday, the NCDC Coronavirus Microsite showed that Nigeria recorded 1,964 new cases last Thursday, which brought the total number of confirmed cases to 116,655 out of which 21,544 were still active. The website also indicated that the virus has killed 1,485 people in the country so far while there have been 93,626 recoveries.

The surge in the number of confirmed cases has put government hospitals approved to treat COVID-19 patients and isolation centres under pressure. Such facilities are reportedly overwhelmed presently amid paucity of some essential medical equipment like oxygen. Just last Thursday, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved N6.45 billion for the setting up of gas plants in 38 locations nationwide in a bid to enhance the treatment of COVID-19 patients who need oxygen.

As gloomy as the situation appears, majority of Nigerians still flagrantly disregard the World Health Organisation’s (WHO)-advised safety protocols of hand washing with soap and running water, physical distancing and wearing of face masks. And with government’s reluctance to order another lockdown, it seems the only hope left to stem the spread of the virus and save many lives is the mass vaccination of the citizens.

Presently, there are 77 COVID-19 vaccines candidates recognised by the WHO, 24 of which are in phase one trials, 34 in phase two trials and 19 in phase three trials. Out of the 19 in phase three trials, the WHO has approved eight.

These include BNT162b2 developed by BioNTech, a German biotechnology company based in Mainz and Pfizer, an American multinational pharmaceutical corporation, which has been approved in 50 countries; mRNA-1273 developed by the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and ModernaTX Inc., which has been approved in 36 countries; Sputnik V developed by Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Russia, which has been approved in eight countries and AZD1222, developed by Oxford University, England and AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company with headquarters in Cambridge, England, which has been approved in seven countries.

Others include Pune-based Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which has been approved in one country; Covaxin, developed by Bharatbiotech International Limited, a vaccines and bio-therapeutics manufacturer in India, which has been approved in one country; Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV, which has been approved in six countries and CoronaVac, developed by Sinovac of China, which has been approved in four countries.

Nigeria is in the race to procure as many doses of any of the approved vaccines as possible. However, indications have emerged that it would not be an easy task. Richer countries have been employing all kinds of tactics to outwit each other and be able to procure enough doses of the vaccines for their citizens, which leaves Third World countries like Nigeria at the receiving end.

Last Wednesday, the WHO disclosed that the world was facing a severe shortage of vaccines against COVID-19, leading to inequalities among a number of countries in terms of access to the vaccines.

The WHO Representative to Russia, Melita Vujnovic, who made the disclosure had said: “Of course, the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines across the world is large … the vaccines are available in high-income countries, which leads to serious inequalities.”

Earlier in January, the Director General of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, slammed high-income countries for scooping up COVID-19 vaccines, and called for equitable distribution of the vaccines.

According to Ghebreyesus, although WHO’s vaccine distribution mechanism, COVAX, secured contracts for two billion doses, better-off countries were draining vaccine supplies by making additional bilateral deals.

Ghebreyesus, who made the remarks while addressing a meeting of the committee on the functioning of the International Health Regulations, 2005, during the COVID-19 response, posted on the WHO website, had said the organisation had secured two billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a billion more in the pipeline and deliveries expected to begin next month.

According to him, ensuring that countries would have access to any COVID-19 vaccines was the promise of a global mechanism established last April, known as the COVAX Facility.

“The vaccines should be administered in every country as a symbol of hope for overcoming both the pandemic and the inequalities that lie at the root of so many global health challenges.

“Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritise bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong,” he noted.

Ghebreyesus had added that most manufacturers had also prioritised regulatory approval in rich countries where profits were higher, rather than submitting their dossiers to the WHO for pre-qualification.

“This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response and continued social and economic disruptions. Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating”, the WHO DG warned.

Nonetheless, even if the Federal Government succeeds in procuring enough doses of the vaccines in the coming weeks, getting Nigerians to be immunised given growing skepticisms about the realness of COVID-19 and the vaccines, would pose another challenge. Many Nigerians, including the elite, still do not believe that COVID-19 is real likewise the vaccines manufactured to ward off the virus.

For instance, in a video widely circulating on Facebook since Sunday, January 17, 2021, Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, could be seen discouraging his supporters from taking the vaccines. His words: “They want to use the (COVID-19) vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill you and us. God forbid! These vaccines are being produced in less than one year of COVID-19. There is no vaccine yet for HIV, malaria, cancer and for several diseases that are killing us… We should draw our minds back to what happened in Kano during the polio vaccines that crippled and killed our children. We have learned our lessons.

More: GuardianNg

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