India, one of the world’s largest producers of vaccines, last week temporarily halted all exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it manufactures, citing the need to prioritise its own domestic needs in the face of rising COVID-19 cases in the country, the Serum Institute of India, SII, which produces Novavax and AstraZeneca vaccines also warned that raw material shortages were affecting their production.
Indian manufacturers have been supplying vaccines around the world, including millions of doses to the COVAX Scheme for Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC) like Nigeria.
Nigeria was allocated 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but to date, less than four million doses have been acquired. Experts fear that the suspension may affect the vaccination programme in Nigeria, hence the need for the Federal Government to begin to look elsewhere should the temporary ban be extended. Excerpts:
Despite being the largest country in Africa, Nigeria is solely dependent on other countries for its vaccine needs.
Nigeria cannot boast of a functional vaccine production facility, although the country has virologists, molecular biologists and experts in genomics of infectious diseases.
The only laboratory for human vaccine production in Nigeria – the Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory, Yaba, Lagos, was in 1991.
Although there have been efforts to resuscitate the facility, none has yielded the desired results.
A Professor of Virology, Daniel Oladimeji Oluwayelu, in a report said the facility would need to be staffed with people who have the requisite expertise and experience in modern technologies for the production of safer and more efficacious vaccines.
Make alternative arrangements — NMA President
Reacting to the suspension by India in an interview, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Professor Innocent Ujah said India’s action if not reverted immediately would obviously affect the number of Nigerians to be vaccinated.
Ujah regretted that Nigeria failed to put in place facilities that could produce vaccines in-country.
“It is a big challenge not having facilities to produce vaccines and this is also a problem where you don’t have and you have to depend on other countries. Even the people you have vaccinated before, if you don’t have more, how will you give them the second dose of the vaccine? It is a big challenge.
“This is what we should have done before now and it is not something you can just start because of an emergency situation. That is not possible because the manufacturers have to agree.”
Proffering solution to ensure that vaccination is maintained despite the suspension, Ujah said Nigeria must make alternative arrangements.
“We will have to start looking elsewhere if India has put an embargo. We have to look at other manufacturers like Pfizer and ensure that they will supply to Nigeria.”
Ujah who expressed hope that Indian suspension would soon be lifted urged the Federal government to ensure that Nigerians are vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I expect that the Indian suspension is a temporary one because apart from the fact that they are producing it they are also making gain. So they will have to open it up so that other countries can buy.”
Speaking on the 374 585 eligible Nigerians vaccinated as of 26 March 2021, according to the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, NPHCDA, Ujah said it was nothing to cheer.
“For a country of over 200 million people, we are expecting that we should vaccinate at least 60 per cent of the population. Over 300,000 is nothing to be proud of.
While urging Nigerians to get vaccinated against COVID, the NMA President said: “This is not the first vaccination Nigeria is having. We have vaccines for measles, yellow fever, hepatitis, and of course poliomyelitis. We all know that vaccine prevents diseases and increase immunity in the body to fight any COVID variant.”
“Getting vaccinated is not a bad idea, it is a good idea that we should be protected against coronavirus so that we don’t lose lives needlessly.”
Ujah who spoke shortly after he took his first jab said it was too early for him to say he has no side effects.
“I had my first dose of the vaccine today and so far, I have not seen any side effects and I am still monitoring myself. If I have any side effect, I will let Nigerians know, but so far I have no side effect even though it is too early to say that. I will not be surprised if I have fever or headache or pain at the site of injection, that is normal,” he added.
Seek cost effective options — Akujobi Igwe
In a chat with Vanguard Health & Living, a Medical Laboratory and Public Health Scientist based in Lagos, Mr Akujiobi Igwe said although the suspension of the vaccine export was temporary, it would likely affect equitable distribution of the vaccines, that is centrally controlled by COVAX.
Igwe who noted that the Serum Institute of India was contracted for production and distribution to some developing countries, said the suspension will affect Nigeria’s vaccination programme. and may lead to shortage of vaccines in the country.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine is in two doses of a minimum of three months apart. It is a big problem for us, local production would have been an option but we can’t develop a world-class vaccine institution and capacity to operate at such a level overnight. It means we have to depend on imports for now.
“Also, expenditure on local vaccines production now might not be a cost-effective approach to this, particularly, in the face of low resources.” He said Nigeria can seek other cost-effective options for the import of AstraZeneca vaccines.
Secure extra vaccine doses through partners — Medical Guild
The Chairman of the Medical Guild, Dr Oluwajimi Sodipo in his response said the suspension announcement by India could be a confirmation that the AstraZeneca vaccine was efficacious.
Sodipo said as for Nigeria, the move may not affect the country’s vaccination as the government has secured about four million doses of the vaccines for use.
He added that the development should be seen as opportunity for the Nigerian government to prioritise the most vulnerable, elderly, health workers and those with high-risk medical conditions in the ongoing vaccination programme. He said effort should be made through the various partners to secure extra doses of the vaccines.
Further, Sodipo said currently many countries have started to experience the 3rd wave of the pandemic which could also affect the country.
“Similarly, the vaccine has been proven to prevent severe COVID-19 infection and it is safe; hence, it is a more cost-effective option to stemming the tide of COVID-19,” he added. Nigeria vaccinates 513,526 persons
The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, NPHCDA, Sunday said it had vaccinated a total of 513,526 eligible Nigerians with the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine as of Friday 26th March 2021.
All the states except Kogi have recorded vaccinations with Lagos still tops with a total of 110,042 vaccinations, equivalent to 43.3 percent. It is followed by Ogun, 47,507 (84%) Bauchi 32,482 (80.6%), and Kaduna 38,063 (42.3).
Abia, with 22 vaccinated persons, has the least number of vaccinations to date, NPHCDA noted.