COVID-19 second wave and the vaccine question
Amid seeming politicisation and rush by the Nigerian health authorities for vaccination as a permanent panacea to the spread of the dreaded coronavirus pandemic, adequate consideration appears not to be accorded to the uncertainties and some proven risks surrounding the vaccines.
For instance, there are many types of vaccines being produced by various authorities around the globe, but there is no visible official effort to determine which of them is most suitable and harbour the least risk to Nigerians.
In what appears to be a want of ingenuity, the approach taken by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has been one of imitation of approaches adopted elsewhere irrespective of whether it is suitable for the country or not. The certification of some vaccine candidates such as the Pfizer- BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford-Astra-Zeneca for emergency use authorisation (EUA) by the leading western nations saw Nigeria jump into the scramble to acquire vaccines. Besides, it has also enlisted in the COVAX scheme and also negotiating deals with China. In doing this, it has ignored the voice of its medical professionals under the aegis of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). The latter has warned that it would need to study and certify the vaccines being touted as the cure.
The second wave of coronavirus infection is real no doubt, and there is an upsurge in death according to sundry reports, hence the urgent need for a reappraisal of measures being taken to curtail a pandemic that took the better part of humanity’s existence last year, and still looks frightening for a new year.
The infectivity of COVID-19 has led to a global rate of infection of about 93,596,673 persons; a fatality of 2,003,912; and a recovery rate of about 66,898,832. In Nigeria, the outlook is different. As of the 14th of January 2021, 1,479 new confirmed cases and 23 deaths were recorded in Nigeria. On aggregate, as of January 15, there were 105,478 confirmed cases; 83,830 cases had been discharged; while 1,405 deaths were recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Increase in the number of deaths pales into insignificance compared to what is obtaining in Europe and North America. However, the entire development is distressing for humanity.
The first wave of coronavirus that came into Nigeria with the anonymous Italian as index case was fairly well managed for the singular reason that the country’s frontiers were promptly shut along with corresponding actions by several countries around the world. What that action did for the country and the world was that it prevented the exposure of a larger chunk of the population to COVID-19 while the existing cycle of infection was managed.
Elite hubris and the need to open up the economy prevailed, and once again the frontiers of the country were thrown open. This has paved the way for the influx of COVID-19 carriers into the country and the consequent upsurge of cases. For a country with a large Diaspora community, this is to be expected.
Given the controversy that has dogged the origin of the pandemic and the safety of the vaccines being showcased by all manner of tradesmen, it makes a lot of sense to be careful. Nigerian medical doctors are not alone in calling for caution on the type of vaccine to be adopted for inoculation. Also, Australian scientists are taking with a grain of salt the vaunted efficacy of some vaccines. For example, they call into question the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca in taming COVID-19 through herd immunity. In that context, they have called on their government to review its inoculation strategy.
Nigerian doctors have earlier expressed disapproval of the Russian vaccine due to several factors that may hinder the vaccine’s efficacy. Others in the scientific community have also expressed the view that the COVID-19 vaccine is the elixir to the pandemic more than the observance of basic COVID-19 protocols like wearing a face mask and social distancing and hand washing. The so-called “vaccine hesitancy” might also set in when safety measures are not being emphasised by the government, particularly in heeding the advice of its medical and scientific community. It could only deepen the incredulity among a huge section of the population that believes that COVID-19 is an elite disease.
Nigerian government ought to be circumspect and follow experts on the matter than the voice of those who want to profit from vaccine importation. From what is known, the Pfizer vaccine that requires minus seven degrees temperature for storage is certainly not in the interest of the country without an all-round safety certification.
The last one year following the outbreak of COVID-19 is long enough for a diligent government to get its acts together. Despite the loan binge of the current government, the rate of testing is abysmal while in some cases isolation centres have reportedly wound up as a result of low cases of the infected. Now in the midst of a “second wave,” hospitals lack bed spaces and oxygen for COVID-19 patients, and without the basics, attention is being diverted to vaccines whose efficacy and long-term effect no one can tell.
In addition, the vaccine question is beset by widespread vaccine nationalism. As experts have observed, some countries prefer to produce their own vaccine for safety reasons in the context of a pandemic whose origin is shrouded in controversy. It would be better to rely more on indigenous efforts at providing a cure, both prophylactic and curative; the sleaze-prone vaccine acquisition is something to be frowned on. It is wiser for the country to encourage and support local research initiatives than its inclination towards dependency.
Importantly, to lower the risk and effects of the “second wave,” the government must go beyond the pre-departure and on-arrival test of persons to outright cancellation of flights from highly exposed countries until further notice.
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