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Governors back use of AstraZeneca vaccine, mum on petrol subsidy

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(Photo by HANNIBAL HANSCHKE / POOL / AFP)

• EU, WHO say vaccine safe, effective
• Kano records low turnout for vaccination

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has backed the continued use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, amid concerns about its safety.

This followed earlier defence of the vaccine by the Federal Government, even as Kano residents are reluctant to take the jab.

Rising from its 28th Emergency Teleconference Meeting, the governors, who reiterated their belief in the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccines, said that as state executives, they are committed to continuously encourage use of the vaccines by all eligible persons in their states.

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In a communiqué signed at the end of the meeting by the NGF Chairman and Ekiti State governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, the governors urged Nigerians to remain calm and report any adverse events noticed following COVID-19 vaccination.

However, the governors’ meeting was silent on the burning issue of petrol subsidy, which had earlier been announced as part of the agenda for the meeting.

Head of Media and Public Affairs at NGF Secretariat, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, had on Tuesday disclosed that the emergency meeting of the state chief executives would be held virtually to deliberate on the report of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, who is the Chairman of NGF Committee on Subsidy on Petrol. El-Rufai was expected to brief his colleagues before any decisions on the supply and or retailing of the product would be taken.

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But in the 11-paragraph communiqué issued after the meeting, only the last paragraph made a scant reference to the petroleum sector where it stated: “Lastly, the NGF received a presentation on the 2018 audited accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum.

Corporation (NNPC) from the Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform (FOSTER) led by its team lead, Mr Henry Adigun. The Forum welcomed the fiduciary risk assessment of the corporation. The additional information will support the work of state governments in engaging with the federal government to improve the governance arrangement of the oil industry.”

Governors of Ekiti, Bayelsa, Ondo, Delta, Kwara, Katsina and Plateau states were among those present at the virtual meeting, while governors of Nasarawa and Enugu states were represented by the deputies.

The Federal Government had earlier in the week said it was going to consult widely before halting subsidy on petrol. Reiterating its decision not to hike the pump price of petrol in March, NNPC had insisted it would maintain the current rate of N162 per litre throughout the month of March, signifying the return of subsidy.

Going by the recent pricing template for the commodity, it was gathered that NNPC might spend about N102.96 billion on petrol subsidy. While Nigeria consumes about 57.44 million litres of petrol daily, the actual depot/landing cost for the product is N206.42 per litre but NNPC sells the commodity at an ex-depot price of N148.6 per litre.

This has heightened expectations of a possible increase of the pump price of petrol early next month owing to the position the governors would take on fuel subsidy. After yesterday’s meeting, the waiting game continues until government’s next move.

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Fayemi said the governors’ decision to support the vaccine was reached after the recommendation of Prof. Oyewale Tomori, chairman of the COVID-19 Technical advisory group (CTAG).

“The Forum’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group (CTAG) led by Prof. Oyewale Tomori briefed members on the status of the COVID-19 vaccine roll out across the states, including the increasing concerns of the public on the safety of AstraZeneca vaccines.

“CTAG recommended that Nigeria should continue to vaccinate all eligible persons with the AstraZeneca vaccine in line with the latest WHO recommendations as available evidence, including findings from research in which some CTAG members are involved, shows that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe.”

OVER the past few weeks, many European countries had suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over a possible link to blood clots. A review by the European Union (EU’s) medicines regulator has concluded that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is “safe and effective”. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigated after 13 EU states suspended use of the vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots. It found the jab was “not associated” with a higher risk of clots.

Italy announced it would resume using the jab today while Sweden said it needed a “few days” to decide.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday called on countries to continue using the vaccine, and is due to release the results of its own review into the vaccine’s safety today.

The agency’s investigation focused on a small number of cases of unusual blood disorders. In particular, it was looking at cases of cerebral venous thrombosis – blood clots in the head.

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IN Kano it was observed that no vaccination exercise took place at designated centres. For instance, no residents and health workers were found at Abdullah Wase Specialist Hospital, Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital and Emir’s Palace, among other vaccination centres.

A medical officer at Abdullahi Wase Specialist Hospital centre told journalists those in charge of the vaccines at the hospital had left for Emir’s Palace where they would launch Kano Municipal Vaccination exercise.

However, when journalists visited the Emir’s Palace, some staff of National Primary Health Agency and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were seen preparing to visit homes of top traditional rulers for the vaccination.

Visit to Murtala Muhammed Hospital where Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje received the first dose showed no activity. A volunteer health worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, disclosed that only 10 persons had so far been vaccinated at Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital. She attributed the low patronage to the difficulties involved in the online registration for the vaccines.

MEANWHILE, the Federal Government has, despite reports in parts of the world of the frightening side effects of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and its suspension in 22 countries, given reasons why Nigeria cannot halt the ongoing nationwide immunisation using the product.

Countries that suspended the use of the vaccine are Sweden, Latvia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg and Cyprus.

Also in the list are Portugal, Slovenia, Indonesia, The Netherlands, Ireland, Bulgaria, and The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thailand, Romania, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Austria and South Africa were also on the list.

Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, had stated that in over 8,000 Nigerians administered with the vaccine, the agency had not received any official report of serious adverse effects.

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Shuaib, who is a public health physician, said NPHCDA was working closely with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to monitor unusual adverse reactions.

He maintained that no safety and efficacy standard had been compromised in the use of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine having been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and tested and certified safe and effective for use in Nigeria by NAFDAC.

Shuab said: “It is important to note that none of the approved brands of COVID-19 vaccine is inferior. Understandably, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine costs relatively less than the other available brands of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is because AstraZeneca, which partnered Oxford to produce the vaccine, decided and announced that they will not make profit during the pandemic, as such, they are selling the COVID-19 vaccine at cost price.”

The public health physician said health and safety of Nigerians is the priority of the Federal Government and that the NPHCDA will continue to monitor this and remain in close contact with counterparts at WHO.”

The Director General/Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and WHO still maintained they had not found any association between the vaccine and reports of blood clots among people who received the vaccine.

Ihekweazu, who is also an epidemiologist, said: “The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine went through a very stringent regulatory process before being approved for use. It is one of only three vaccines that have been approved by both WHO and regulatory authorities in countries. It has met the requirements for both safety and efficacy in humans. The vaccine developers have also established broad pharmacovigilance and have been monitoring for side effects.

“I have received my first dose of the vaccine, as well as our frontline staff at NCDC working in the National Reference Laboratory. While there was mild side effects, notably mild pain at the injection site, we have not recorded any adverse effect so far.

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Ihekweazu also defended the vaccine at the Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital (AE -FUTHA) in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, while commissioning a molecular Laboratory built by the NCDC. He noted that no medical intervention in the world could save more than the COVID-19 vaccine,

He said: “No medical intervention in the world that can save more than the vaccine and we are confident right now of the vaccine we are introduced to. I have taken mine about two weeks ago. Every member of staff in NCDC has taken the vaccine. We are confident the vaccine will be a game changer as we respond to this outbreak in Nigeria”.

President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Innocent Ujah, told The Guardian yesterday that because Nigeria did not participate in the phase 4 clinical trials of the vaccines, it would be difficult to extrapolate the side effects in Europe with Nigeria. Decisions on the Nigerian experience, according to him, will be based on findings and recorded side effects among Nigerians who have taken the vaccine. He urged clinicians to do detailed recordings of the observations of those with side effects.”

ALSO, a consultant pharmacist and medical director, Merit Healthcare, Dr. Lolu Ojo, told The Guardian he would not recommend that Nigeria suspend or ban use of the vaccine.

He said: “As a matter of fact, the vaccine had been in use in Nigeria and spreading from Abuja to states. There has been no report of any serious adverse effect yet. More people are still taking it and I will take it when it’s my turn on 27th March.

“NAFDAC or the Federal Ministry of Health is yet to tell us that this vaccine is not safe. I think we need to exercise some restraints and trust our leaders in science as distinguished from our political leaders.”

Ojo said it is expected that a percentage of the population of users of any drug may experience adverse reactions of varying severity. He explained that reported cases were not unknown to science.

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“The trouble here is our ability to monitor and report on a large case,” Ojo said.

A public health physician and Executive Secretary, Enugu State Agency for the Control of AIDS (ENSACA), Dr. Chinedu Arthur Idoko, said: “My position is that the concerns should not be overlooked but procedurally subjected to scientific/medical scrutiny. This way we can ascertain the veracity of the alleged reactions, especially as applies to our own people and environment. This, we have to employ/apply in Nigeria as we, with all sense of responsibility and caution proceed on the vaccination process.”

A virologist and vaccinologist, Dr. Simon Agwale, stressed the argument that countries that suspended the vaccine only did so as precautionary measures pending the outcome of ongoing investigations.

“There is good evidence that the vaccine is both safe and effective in all the clinical trials conducted so far, but NAFDAC should quickly activate their pharmacovigilance to enable us track any side effect of the vaccine in our population.

“Let our decision be based on evidence and therefore NAFDAC should make sure that every participant in the ongoing roll-out of the vaccine be monitored for any possible side effect. The managing director of Serum Institute had said that since receiving authorisation in January, the institute had shipped 90 million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to a whopping 51 nations within a span of two months. So, let us continue to monitor our roll-out programme and also events in other countries where the vaccine is currently in use.”

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