Plan to manufacture vaccines locally suffers another setback
*Biovaccines excited on possibility of producing jab for COVID-19
Nigeria’s quest to get its first set of locally manufactured vaccines has suffered another setback. The country was expected to roll out its first locally produced vaccines in July 2019, beginning with the jabs against Yellow fever, Tetanus Toxoid and Hepatitis B.
But seven months after, the project has not kicked off. The Guardian investigation revealed that the firm floated to achieve this target, Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, has not began building the state-of-the-art pharmaceutical manufacturing facility needed for the vaccines.
Project Coordinator, Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, Everest Okeakpu, told The Guardian yesterday that the project was delayed due to challenges on the choice of technology transfer and the issue of volume of vaccines to be produced.
Okeakpu, however, said that the groundbreaking ceremony for the vaccine manufacturing plant would be done before the end of the year.He explained: “Yes the project is on but we have suffered some delays. We are harmonizing some issues with the agency of government we are working with that is the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). The health minister has approved our plans and given his nod. We were discussing with the NPHCDA on the volume of vaccines that we need as a country. You know no single plant can manufacture all vaccines. The volume will determine the size of the factory.
“Another issue is the technology transfer. We need to get the technology transfer from a company that has been involved in manufacturing vaccines that are relevant to us. But all that is almost concluded now and we plan to do the groundbreaking for the factory before the end of the year.”
Okeakpu said he is excited at the prospect of Biovaccines getting involved in the production of vaccines for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) unlike that for Lassa fever. He said because COVID-19 is a global problem, there will be support and patronage worldwide unlike Lassa fever that is endemic only to Nigeria and a few other African countries.
Also, the factory, when completed, would have to be prequalified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) before it starts producing vaccines. What a paradox. Nigeria was not only producing vaccines such as smallpox, yellow fever, and anti-rabies vaccines, between 1940 and 1991, but also exported to Cameroon, Central African Republic and a few other countries.
However, in 1991 the Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory (FVPL) in Yaba, Lagos, stopped production ostensibly because the government wanted to reactivate and upgrade the facility, which did not take place until today.
Also, Nigeria spends over N7 billion annually importing vaccines into the country, with about 80 percent cost of vaccines borne by Global vaccine initiative (GAVI).
The Guardian investigation had also revealed that the company has relegated plans to start with Yellow fever vaccines but with more pressing vaccines needed in the National Immunisation Programme such as: Pentavalent vaccine; the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine; Tetanus with Diphtheria vaccine; Inactivate Polio Vaccine (IPV); the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV); Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine (HPV) for cervical cancer; and Meningococcal vaccine.
Meanwhile, May and Baker Plc, an indigenous pharmaceutical industry had in June 2017 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Government, which was vetted by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to immediately begin local production of vaccines.According to the MoU, the project, which is being handled through Biovaccines, will build local capacity in vaccine production as well as develop a centre of excellence for research and development of vaccine technology and other biologics.It was also gathered that the company would need to invest $50 million (N18.5 billion) to resuscitate a manufacturing line at the defunct NVPL in Yaba, Lagos, which it acquired.
The project when completed is expected to help Nigeria to better respond to emergencies like the recent epidemic of Cerebro Spinal Meningitis (CSM) C that ravaged about 27 states of the federation in 2017, generate increased internal revenue and increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.