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Why Nigeria is yet to produce vaccines locally, by COVID-19 panel chair

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Chairman of Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, has offered explanation why Nigeria had not begun production of vaccines locally.

The virologist told The Guardian: “We had hopes and were on course to achieve commencement of production of vaccines locally in Nigeria, until two things happened. Nigeria renegotiated agreement with Global Vaccine Initiative (GAVI) to end in 2028 instead of 2021.

“Nigeria was to have begun sourcing her vaccine needs without GAVI support after 2021 and Biovaccines Nigeria Limited (BVNL) business plan and agreement with partners were based on that fact. Then Nigeria pleaded to shift the date of gradation to source vaccines without GAVI support to 2028. Therefore, BVNL business plan was thrown to the sea and a new one had to be made, and renegotiation had to be started with potential partners.

The BVNL board chairman went on: “Second, COVID-19 came calling and turned the best plans into tatters. The disease did not only have damaging effect locally, but it also affected our global partners. COVID-19 came and locked out progress and development, including progress of local production of vaccines in Nigeria. It was tough enough working in the toxic business-operating environment in Nigeria. The pandemic came and almost buried what was near death.

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“Now that we have signed on November 5, 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and BVNL, there is a renewed hope as we look forward to commencing local production of vaccines in the last quarter of 2021 or the first quarter of 2022. The MoU has now provided the assurance and evidence needed to sign on our technical partners. We are now set to put in place steps to commence construction followed by test run of the new facilities and other activities for local production of vaccines.”

Asked if the challenges were surmountable, the pioneer vice chancellor of Redeemer’s University noted: “Some are, others are the perennial Nigerian problems that every business venture has to cope with.

For me, the greatest and recurring problem will always be how to operate in an atmosphere of accountability and transparency free of corruption, dishonesty, bribery, fraud and such other societal evils second nature to our nation.”

On vaccines being prioritised by BVNL, Tomori said: “We are looking at the vaccines for routine immunisation of our children, as determined by the national immunisation authorities, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).”

Prodded about likelihood of their production in Nigeria, the virologist submitted: “Yes it is, otherwise we would have closed shop. Nothing is impossible. The NVRI in Vom is still producing vaccines since 1924 and under the prevailing condition. It takes commitment, self-confidence and above all patriotism and national pride. We at Biovaccines have all those attributes and more.”

He distanced fresh disease outbreaks across the federation from arrival of the dry season, blaming authorities instead for negligence.

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