Team leader expresses cautious optimism
By Onche Odeh
The Nigerian Government is yet to make a definitive choice on the companies it would engage in the partnerships it is considering for local production of COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria.
This, as confirmed to AfricaSTI by leaders of the team mandated to lead the project comes as Nigeria’s Minister of Health disclosed that the country has an indigenous COVID-19 vaccine candidate it is working on.
Meanwhile, the government’s immediate attention has been on how to make the best of the over 15-year-old partnership with indigenous pharmaceutical company, May & Baker to make COVID-19 vaccines available locally.
Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, the product of that agreement was incorporated in 2005 to produce safe and affordable human vaccines for Nigeria to reverse the high mortality from immunizable diseases.
The Federal Government of Nigeria wants to ride on this partnership to create levels of partnerships with local and international firms and institutions to develop capacities for local production of COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria.
The government is, however, yet to decide on which version of the vaccine or the manufacturer to partner with.
Mr. Everest Okeakpu, Biovaccines Project Manager confirmed this to AfricaSTI.
In his response to AfricaSTI, Okeakpu said, “On COVID-19 vaccine, we are actually in discussion with other stakeholders on which vaccines to produce and once we reach agreement you will get further details.”
This was alluded to by, Professor Oyewale Tomori, the renowned virologist who heads the team mandated to work out the local COVID-19 vaccine local production project with Biovaccines.
The Prof Tomori-led partnership is working on being involved in the production of vaccines either locally or in partnership with those that have been approved globally, like the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine whose bulk would be produced in India.
“This is an ongoing discussion between the company and other stakeholders like the Federal Government of Nigeria and the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA). The current COVID-19 situation is adding to the discussion. As soon as discussions are concluded appropriate information will be provided,” Prof Tomori told AfricaSTI
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has, however, taken a step ahead of the Federal Government of Nigeria, as the Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, revealed that the state is engaging Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna in a COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan aimed at covering 60% of the state’s population.
Giving details on this during a live appearance on Channels, Sanwo-Olu said, “As a sovereign, we want the Federal Government to take the lead in getting the vaccine. As a sub-national Government, we are taking our destiny into our own hand. We have started conversation with some of the vaccine manufacturers. I have made contact with Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca. Developers of Moderna have written to us and we have written back to them.”
Lagos State is the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. It is in this regards that the Governor said the state has activated plans to augment the vaccine that would be delivered to the State.
He, however, said that the discussions with the firms are still at the board level.
Meanwhile, Prof Tomori has expressed cautious optimism on the proposed outcome of the partnership projects he is currently leading on behalf of the Government of Nigeria.
“It is a long long story with origin as far back as 1930s.. of Nigeria’s repeating SSS cycles of “Start-Slow-Stop” and then “Start-Stall-Sleep” approach to issues of development and progress. You make no progress that way. What we need is another type of SSS (Start-Sustain-Succeed,) he told AfricaSTI.
But on an optimistic note he said, “Yes we are at it again. But something tells me, this time, thanks to COVID19, we will sustain and succeed. The government working with May & Baker has set up the Biovaccine Nigeria Limited BVNL to produce vaccines locally. Recent pronouncements by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and reported fund releases by the government are evident of sustained seriousness about local vaccine production.”
He said, “The next few months are crucial as our confidence is renewed that we will succeed this time around.”
On local COVID-19 cure and treatment claims by indigenous scientists, he said, “As for the committee looking at local COVID claims, I think they must have laid down certified uniform science and evidenced based criteria for evaluating each claim.”