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New variant of COVID-19 may incapacitate current vaccines, experts warn

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos) and John Akubo (Abuja)
22 December 2020   |   4:16 am
Medical experts have warned that the emergence of a new variant of COVID-19, which is 70 per cent more contagious, could affect effectiveness of current vaccines.

• Charge Nigeria on local production of therapy
• Lawan insists on product review before usage

Medical experts have warned that the emergence of a new variant of COVID-19, which is 70 per cent more contagious, could affect effectiveness of current vaccines. The fresh disease has shown face in United Kingdom and a couple of other nations.

To avert putting the entire national immunisation programme in jeopardy, they advised the Federal Government to prioritise local production of the therapy.

This comes as President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, charged the Federal Government to ensure thorough product review before consumption.

He made the call yesterday at a meeting between the Senate leadership and top officials of the Ministry of Health over the cure in Abuja.

Lawan spoke after assurances from the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, that government was ready for total vaccination of the citizens

A vaccinologist and chair, COVID-19 vaccine task team of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, Dr. Simon Agwale, told The Guardian yesterday: “According to the British Prime Minister, the mutant strain is ‘growing faster than the existing variants.’ Mutations could, for instance, increase the virus’ death rate, boost its transmission or, potentially, help it evade a vaccine. There is however no evidence to suggest that the new strain is more lethal or causes more severe illness. There is also, at least for now no evidence to suggest the current vaccines that have been granted Emergency use Authorizations will be any less effective against the new variant.”

Agwale, who is also a former researcher at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) said: “If eventually we find out that these mutant strains affect the effectiveness of the current vaccines, then we will be in a situation like the flu virus where new vaccines have to be developed every year because the predominant strain changes annually. If this happens, then we may have endless delays in vaccine supplies because the vaccines would be outdated once they reach Africa, while the West will have access to the newest versions that incorporate the new strains.

“This therefore makes building local vaccine manufacturing very urgent and should be our number one priority going forward, without which our entire national immunisation programme would be in jeopardy.”

In the meantime, Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, has denied saying Nigeria would soon begin local production of the vaccines, adding that the most populous black nation would be relying on imported ones.

The refusal was contained in a statement signed by Resident Media Consultant to NAFDAC, Sayo Akintola.

Meanwhile, contrary to reports that Nigeria and other developing may not access the access the cure until 2024, the World Health Organisation (WHO), at the weekend, said all COVAX’s 190 participating and eligible economies would get doses to protect vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021.

At least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses would be made available to 92 nations eligible for the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI) COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), targeting up to 20 per cent population coverage by the end of this year.

COVAX, the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to the vaccines for all countries regardless of income level, announced that it had arrangement in place to access nearly two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, on behalf of 190 participating economies. For the vast majority of these deals, COVAX has guaranteed access to a portion of the first wave of production, followed by volume scales as further supply becomes available.

The new deals announced include the signing of an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca for 170 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate, and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Johnson & Johnson for 500 million doses of the Janssen candidate, which is currently being investigated as a single dose vaccine. These pacts are in addition to existing agreements COVAX has with Serum Institute of India (SII) for 200 million doses – with options for up to 900 million doses more – of either the AstraZeneca/Oxford or Novavax candidates, as well as a statement of intent for 200 million doses of the Sanofi/GSK vaccine candidate.

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