‘Nigeria may lose out on COVID-19 vaccine’
• Minister, others task govt, scientists on homegrown solutions
As the world races to find a wonder drug for COVID-19, the Federal Government may have to boost its game plan if it hopes to beat the pandemic, medics have warned.
As at Monday, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had disclosed 675 new cases of coronavirus in the country, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 20,919 with 7,109 persons discharged and 525 recorded deaths.
The figures came as the World Health Organisation (WHO), last week, welcomed the initial clinical trial results from the United Kingdom (U.K.) that showed dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, could save the lives of patients critically ill with the virus.
According to preliminary findings shared with WHO, the treatment reduced mortality by about one-third for patients on ventilators, while for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one-fifth.
Also, a Chinese company, yesterday, reported positive early data from human trials of a vaccine against the virus. In a report published by Daily Mail, Sinovac Biotech Limited said ‘CoronaVac’ is safe and capable of triggering an immune response. It was said to have induced neutralising antibodies in more than 90 per cent of trial participants two weeks after they had received the jab.
“The danger,” however, is that Nigeria might “not have access to especially COVID-19 vaccine immediately after licensure if we don’t participate one way or the other in its development,” said a virologist/vaccinologist Dr. Simon Agwale.
According to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Innovative Biotech, Keffi, Nasarawa State and Innovative Biotech, United States of America (USA), the Federal Government must adopt a workable strategy. This, he explained, entails building “a vaccine manufacturing capability so that once the vaccines are licensed, we’ll work out a licensing agreement to manufacture the vaccines locally and/or actively participate in clinical trials, which will allow us better negotiate access with the companies.”
Dr. Chimezie Anyakora reinforced the caution, noting that Nigeria could not afford continued dependence on external support for public health expertise and medical products. “We need to mature and mobilise local talents and invest in local pharmaceutical manufacturing. We need to have a paradigm shift and work towards building a resilient system,” said the pharmaceutical chemist and Project Lead of Bloom Public Health.
This was as Minister of State for Science and Technology Mohammed Abdullahi, yesterday, harped on the need to develop indigenous technology to tackle the pandemic. Disclosing this at the webinar of the National Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Summit 2020 in Abuja, the minister said Nigeria could not achieve much if it relied on other countries for its needs.
He challenged the country’s scientists, engineers and technicians to rise to the situation by developing appropriate and useful technologies to stem health problems ravaging the country.
“The time to fold our hands and get dispatch of technologies from overseas may be getting over gradually. Africans, and indeed Nigerians, must be passionate with vigorous pursuit of getting it right as we harness all our intellectual and natural capabilities to develop our nation,” he said.
Remotely underscoring the need for Nigerian authorities to stimulate local solutions, the chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, Prof. Devi Sridhar, told The Guardian (U.K.): “The identification of better clinical treatment of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms should not change the core public health strategies of governments to contain and suppress this outbreak. It is another crucial piece of the puzzle in managing this pandemic, and another step forward on the long path of humanity learning to live with this virus for the months and years to come.”
He cautioned: “We should not think of dexamethasone as a magic bullet. This drug looks only effective in those patients already in a critical state. The real game-changer will be a drug that prevents people from transitioning from mild symptoms to a severe state. With such a drug, alongside widespread testing and early detection, patients could be treated in community and outpatient clinics…Most importantly, it is not a vaccine and does not prevent the transmission of the virus within the wider population and the attendant problems of sufficient healthcare capacity – the number of trained healthcare staff, beds, oxygen and ventilators.”
On his part, an epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Nwaoney, stressed that what the Federal Government, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF), the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and other institutes should do is close ranks and carry out more research on the pandemic.
Another epidemiologist, community health physician and Executive Secretary of Enugu State Agency for Control of AIDS (ESACA), Dr. Chinedu Idoko, admitted that Dexamethasone is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with serious cases of COVID-19.
He, however, expressed reservations, saying: “There is some level of skepticism. I am aware chronic/prolonged ingesting of steroids, of which Dexamethasone is one, comes with its own problems. But I guess, in this case, it is not likely to be a prolonged course of treatment.” He urged the Federal Government to key in only after ascertaining the veracity of the claims.
A consultant pharmacognosist and Founder/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bioresources Development Group, Prof. Maurice Iwu, said: “It is a very interesting and exciting development. The report of the multi-centre clinical trials is a major breakthrough in the fight against this pandemic. It will definitely encourage more work in that direction.
“When we announced in early February 2020 that the replication of the virus was possible using the compounds we patented against SARS Coronavirus, there was huge surprise but the international scientific community took notice. The scramble for a cure became intense.
“Happy that we are having breakthroughs from many quarters. As you know, we are continuing our efforts to conduct clinical trials on the IHP Detox Tea and the development of Andrographolide as an active pharmaceutical ingredient for COVID-19 and other viral diseases.”
He said further: “The discoveries will not put a stop to the researches on chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir and others drugs in clinical trials. To the contrary, it will spur more work. The result is not really optimal. Not just chloroquine. Various groups will evaluate most steroids and statins. Even here at home, it will encourage the Raw Materials Research and Development Council to subject its own Lovastatin (isolated from a local mushroom) to clinical evaluation. The statin is safer and has well established antiviral and pharmaco-dynamic properties.”