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COVID-19: Nigerians ponder alternatives as countries scramble for vaccines

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Nigeria, like many other countries of the world, is experiencing the second wave of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. More and more people are getting infected by the day as the daily reports by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) show. As at 2.41pm yesterday, the NCDC Coronavirus Microsite showed that Nigeria recorded 1,964 new cases last Thursday, which brought the total number of confirmed cases to 116,655 out of which 21,544 were still active. The website also indicated that the virus has killed 1,485 people in the country so far while there have been 93,626 recoveries.

The surge in the number of confirmed cases has put government hospitals approved to treat COVID-19 patients and isolation centres under pressure. Such facilities are reportedly overwhelmed presently amid paucity of some essential medical equipment like oxygen. Just last Thursday, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved N6.45 billion for the setting up of gas plants in 38 locations nationwide in a bid to enhance the treatment of COVID-19 patients who need oxygen.

As gloomy as the situation appears, majority of Nigerians still flagrantly disregard the World Health Organisation’s (WHO)-advised safety protocols of hand washing with soap and running water, physical distancing and wearing of face masks. And with government’s reluctance to order another lockdown, it seems the only hope left to stem the spread of the virus and save many lives is the mass vaccination of the citizens.

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Presently, there are 77 COVID-19 vaccines candidates recognised by the WHO, 24 of which are in phase one trials, 34 in phase two trials and 19 in phase three trials. Out of the 19 in phase three trials, the WHO has approved eight.

These include BNT162b2 developed by BioNTech, a German biotechnology company based in Mainz and Pfizer, an American multinational pharmaceutical corporation, which has been approved in 50 countries; mRNA-1273 developed by the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and ModernaTX Inc., which has been approved in 36 countries; Sputnik V developed by Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Russia, which has been approved in eight countries and AZD1222, developed by Oxford University, England and AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company with headquarters in Cambridge, England, which has been approved in seven countries.

Others include Pune-based Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which has been approved in one country; Covaxin, developed by Bharatbiotech International Limited, a vaccines and bio-therapeutics manufacturer in India, which has been approved in one country; Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV, which has been approved in six countries and CoronaVac, developed by Sinovac of China, which has been approved in four countries.

Nigeria is in the race to procure as many doses of any of the approved vaccines as possible. However, indications have emerged that it would not be an easy task. Richer countries have been employing all kinds of tactics to outwit each other and be able to procure enough doses of the vaccines for their citizens, which leaves Third World countries like Nigeria at the receiving end.

Last Wednesday, the WHO disclosed that the world was facing a severe shortage of vaccines against COVID-19, leading to inequalities among a number of countries in terms of access to the vaccines.

The WHO Representative to Russia, Melita Vujnovic, who made the disclosure had said: “Of course, the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines across the world is large … the vaccines are available in high-income countries, which leads to serious inequalities.”

Earlier in January, the Director General of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, slammed high-income countries for scooping up COVID-19 vaccines, and called for equitable distribution of the vaccines.

According to Ghebreyesus, although WHO’s vaccine distribution mechanism, COVAX, secured contracts for two billion doses, better-off countries were draining vaccine supplies by making additional bilateral deals.

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Ghebreyesus, who made the remarks while addressing a meeting of the committee on the functioning of the International Health Regulations, 2005, during the COVID-19 response, posted on the WHO website, had said the organisation had secured two billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a billion more in the pipeline and deliveries expected to begin next month.

According to him, ensuring that countries would have access to any COVID-19 vaccines was the promise of a global mechanism established last April, known as the COVAX Facility.

“The vaccines should be administered in every country as a symbol of hope for overcoming both the pandemic and the inequalities that lie at the root of so many global health challenges.

“Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritise bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong,” he noted.

Ghebreyesus had added that most manufacturers had also prioritised regulatory approval in rich countries where profits were higher, rather than submitting their dossiers to the WHO for pre-qualification.

“This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response and continued social and economic disruptions. Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating”, the WHO DG warned.

Nonetheless, even if the Federal Government succeeds in procuring enough doses of the vaccines in the coming weeks, getting Nigerians to be immunised given growing skepticisms about the realness of COVID-19 and the vaccines, would pose another challenge. Many Nigerians, including the elite, still do not believe that COVID-19 is real likewise the vaccines manufactured to ward off the virus.

For instance, in a video widely circulating on Facebook since Sunday, January 17, 2021, Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, could be seen discouraging his supporters from taking the vaccines. His words: “They want to use the (COVID-19) vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill you and us. God forbid! These vaccines are being produced in less than one year of COVID-19. There is no vaccine yet for HIV, malaria, cancer and for several diseases that are killing us… We should draw our minds back to what happened in Kano during the polio vaccines that crippled and killed our children. We have learned our lessons.

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“If they say they are taking the vaccines in the public, allow them take their vaccines. Don’t say I said you should not take it but if you want to take it open your eyes before you take the vaccines.”

So, faced with the two-pronged challenge of scarcity of the vaccines and doubts about their efficacy in the country, how else can Nigerians beat COVID-19? What alternatives are there for the masses to protect themselves against the now more deadly variant of the ravaging virus? The Guardian spoke with some experts on this subject matter and presents their views below.

‘It’s Time For Nigerians Take Their Nutrition Serious’
By Tobi Awodipe

A LAGOS-BASED nutritionist, Ify Omesiete, told The Guardian that more than ever, Nigerians need to begin to take their nutrition more serious as it could make or break their health.

According to her, keeping one’s immune system up remains one of the surest ways to protect oneself against infectious diseases. She said: “With this second wave of COVID-19, it’s still as important to keep your immune system up, whether as a child or an adult. For adults, this isn’t the time to debate if your immune system is okay or testing the waters and things like that. It is really important that we are conscious of how and what we eat and how much of an impact it has on our immune system.

“Speaking of three things that can improve your immunity as an adult, the first is water. Water is so often underestimated but very important. Getting at least two litres of water inside you daily helps your liver and kidney to flush out toxins. Not only does it do this, in relation to Coronavirus, water helps to push bacteria from your throat all the way down to the oesophagus and clears the airways. Same way you can drink regular room temperature water, doing things like steam inhalation with essential oils like eucalyptus oils or silverbird helps. Water helps to protect your immune system and clear your airways, keeping them fresh and free from any virus you may have come in contact with during the day.

“The second thing you can do is eating fruits. Fruits are the highest sources of natural Vitamin C and the list is endless. When you take Vitamin C tablets, you get approximately 1000mg but your body only uses what it needs of the 1000mg while the rest is passed through urine. You need to improve your fruit intake by eating things like apple, pineapples, watermelons, pawpaw, grapes and strawberries. These fruits are very high in Vitamin C, antioxidants and other essential vitamins and microbial properties which are essential for building your immune system, keeping your gut health in place and protecting you all round.

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“Finally, ensure you are getting lots of herbs in your meals, not just regular vegetables. Herbs like coriander, oregano, thyme, ginger, spices like garlic and so on. These help in building your immune system as they not only have microbial properties, they support the T cells in your body by ensuring they help you stay strong and fight viruses.”

Omesiete also spoke on things that could lower one’s immunity. She explained: “For the three things that can lower your immunity, the first is excessive intake of alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t do any good for anybody. If you are taking alcohol this period, have it at the back of your mind that it lowers your immunity by at least 50 per cent. It renders your liver immobile for a long time as your liver has to work extra hard to remove all those empty calories and burn away the alcohol.

“The second factor is immobility. Ensure you move around and keep active. You don’t need to do strenuous exercises but keeping your body in motion tells your metabolism to stay active and tells your immune system to stay very active as well. Keep moving no matter how little especially if you are sitting in front of a computer for long periods. Stand up, walk or run around; it is really key.

“Finally, abusing medication especially now is very dangerous. A lot of us are scared but going to the pharmacy for steroids and anti-malarial tablets will lower your immunity. This is why it is important to stay healthy and safe, eat proper, balanced meals and lots of high in Vitamin C fruits.

“Using Vitamin C tablets alongside malaria tablets is actually dangerous as well as abusing other drugs can lower your immunity. In all, remember to stay safe, wear a mask at all times to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19. A lot of people are experiencing asymptomatic issues with Coronavirus, which means they are not showing symptoms but can pass it on to others.”

‘There Should Be Strict Compliance With Safety Protocols’
From Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Abuja

THE Director and Head of Department of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Federal Ministry of Health, Pharm. Zainab U Shariff, has advised Nigerians to strictly keep to the existing safety protocols against COVID-19, stressing that doing so would guarantee their safety to a large extent.

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Speaking with The Guardian in Abuja, she also urged Nigerians to eat foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals. Her words: “I find it duty bound to provide additional health tips to support the efforts of the Federal Government on the war against COVID-19. I advise that people should continue to engage in constant washing of hands for at least 20 seconds, use alcohol based hand sanitizer, observe social distance and report any of the following symptoms – cough, sneezing and difficulty in breathing – to the NCDC through the numbers provided by the agency.

“The next important thing is nutrition. It is important we eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals especially Vitamin C and B Complex, zinc, potassium and rich antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables are also important. Grains such as soya beans, millet, acha and finger millets are beneficial. People should also drink yoghourt to stimulate production of friendly bacteria.

“Detoxification is also important. This means the removal of toxins from our body systems through the use of cruciferous vegetables like carrots, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.

“Also, hepatic herbs such as bitter leaves, beetroot, bitter cola, bitter garden egg, basil, lemon and tamarind can all be taken as infusion or teas.”

Sheriff also recommended the practice of diaphoterism or use of plants for steaming the body or inhalation. According to her, this could be done using plants like mango, guava, lemon, lemongrass, neem tree and eucalyptus.

“Allow to boil, then steam your body for 20 to 30 minutes to ensure penetration of the essential oils from the plants deep into the skin, which is an organ of detoxification. This allows for toning of the body organs and strengthens their ability to fight the invader, in this case the virus, and thereby boosts the immune system,” she explained.

She further explained that medicinal plants act in three main ways to boost the immune system. “One, they act as deep immune moderators or activators, which stimulate the immune system at cellular level. Examples are garlic, onions, ginseng, myrrh and frankincense.

“Two, they act as surface immune modulators. They stimulate the increase in the production of white blood cells and act as antimicrobial agents. Examples are spices such as Aidan fruit, African black pepper, uziza, fennel, anise, and cloves.

“Three, they act as adaptogens or glandular stimulators, which stimulate the glandular systems. Examples are bitters, ginger, fruits, nuts, seeds, coconuts, cashew and tumeric.”

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Shariff noted that, “using the plants mentioned above can improve the quality of our health, reduce stress and anxiety with ultimate boosting of the immune system,” adding: “This is an indirect mechanism of fighting not only COVID-19 but any viral infection.”

‘Nigerians Should Use Natural Herbs And Supplements To Boost Their Immune System’
By Adelowo Adebumiti

A NATURAL medicine practitioner, Dr. Qazeem Olawale, has deplored the attitude of Nigerians towards the second wave of Coronavirus, saying it was not encouraging.

Olawale, who is the president of Olaking International Holistic Medicine Company Limited (OIHM), warned that the second wave of the virus was more severe hence the need for Nigerians to take necessary precautions. He said: “The way I see it, this second wave seems more severe and many people are falling prey. During my recent visit to Dubai, I noticed absolute compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines. I always found people using their nose mask diligently while ensuring social distance to the best of their ability. In rare cases, when a person does not use the mask properly, people close by would remind such a person. And for those who still resist, such was immediately reported to law enforcement officers who immediately took necessary actions to enforce compliance.

“I returned to Nigeria a week ago and it was unfortunate to notice disregard for the protocol right from the airport. It is very strange that at this level, we still find people claiming that COVID-19 is a lie and as such would neither use the nose mask nor maintain social distance. Quite a number of my acquaintances have been confirmed positive of the virus, but someone still claims it’s not real.”

Olawale, who is a graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Ilorin, and also an India-trained natural medicine practitioner, said Nigerians needed to believe that COVID-19 was real and comply strictly with the protocols. He added that it was important that law enforcement officers also abide by the protocols, stressing that only then could they make the right impact of correcting dissidents.
Speaking on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccine, he stated that that could not be decided yet.

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“But seeing the president of the United States of America take the shot in public is enough reason for anyone who would like to take a leap of faith. That is enough evidence that the vaccine may be safe, even though my stand is that vaccine alone is not sufficient. There is the absolute need to look into natural medicine to enjoy the natural and harmless approach of boosting immunity. It is not sufficient to know that certain supplements have certain benefits; it is important to relate with experienced practitioners who know what to combine to ensure the best result.”

He added: “On our part, we have called out to the government through different media platforms requesting that we should be given the opportunity to try our best in treating this virus. Our remedy for several viral infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Herpes and more has been very effective. So, we have the confidence to say that our treatment regimen will be effective at combating this infection.

“Personally, I’m getting exhausted with calls from people who have been experiencing several of the symptoms associated with the infection. So far, all those we have attended to with our remedy gave positive feedback. All we need is the support of the government so we could attend to more people.”

On the nation’s capacity to procure enough vaccines and preserve them, he said: “I am not in the best position to decide this. Some of the conditions for preserving the vaccines have been made known and I think it could be researched by anyone.

“Another factor I find important regarding administering the vaccines, which I would advise that the government look into, is ensuring a good tracking system for those who have contracted the virus. From my experience, I would say that the number of confirmed cases that are being recorded and announced in Nigeria is less than the actual number of those infected. I say this because of the large number of calls I have received from people whose cases have probably not been recorded.”

When asked about other options to fight the disease, Olawale said the first step was to adhere strictly to the already established protocols, stressing that there was need to enforce them to curtail the spread.

“This is the same approach that was used against SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV previously,” he stated, adding: “I would advise that we take natural herbs and supplements to boost our immune system. A basic principle in natural medicine is that nature holds the cure to every disease. So, without an ounce of doubt, I believe the cure to this also lies in enhancing our immune system with harmless natural means.”

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Speaking on immune-boosting herbs, he recalled that at the onset of the pandemic, he recommended some herbs and herbal formula that could be used to boost the immune system, noting: “By now, I believe many Nigerians, especially those connected to social media, would have read about some herbs and how they have been used by some to combat the infection. Nevertheless, I would be listing some of them here, like the black seed, garlic, ginger, honey and a lot of others. I believe these herbs are common and everyone should know them. But knowing that these herbs are effective is not enough; one needs to know how to use them to boost one’s immune system. That is why it is necessary to patronise those who are experts in this field.

“There is a formula we do share to people for boosting immunity, which contains just four herbs – cloves, black seed, black walnut and garlic. The four herbs are to be boiled in about two litres of water and taken on an empty stomach, two to three times daily for six days. On the first day, you use only ½ tablespoon and gradually increase the dosage daily. This should be done once every month. The issue with this is that it is not directly suitable for everyone. People with ulcer would need to take another concoction before using this so it won’t affect their health. That is why it is not good to publicly recommend a herbal regimen without a thorough analysis of how the regimen would affect the user.

“The above is the bedrock of our success at OIHM. We do not give carpet treatment to our patients regardless of how related their cases may appear. That is why we use more than 10 therapies in attending to situations which helps us to manage the main complaint of the patient, then we also attend to the symptomatic issues attributed to the patient’s case. Therefrom, we regulate the excesses which our herbs may have with therapies like diets and administer therapies to improve the general well-being of the body.”

‘Complying With Safety Protocols, Other Hygienic Measures Will Help’
By Daniel Anazia

FORMER Head of the Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Technology, University of Lagos, Prof. Udoma Mendie, has affirmed that the new strain of COVID-19 is more infective and very virulent, warning Nigerians to religiously comply with the safety protocols as advised by health authorities.

Mendie, who is a consultant on drug production and quality control with focus on sterile products, anti-infective and contamination controls, said there was no cure for the virus yet. He said: “This strain is very contagious with high rate of transmission. It is also very virulent and deadly. There is still no cure except that we are waiting for the vaccines that have been authorised for use by USFDA. The labelled efficacy of Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna vaccines is about 95 per cent. Other vaccines such as Oxford, Sputnik have been authorised by their countries of origin.

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“Anyone having the full course of any of these vaccines i.e. two injections within an interval of three weeks should be protected. The Pfizer vaccine is 95 per cent effective against COVID-19, while the Moderna vaccine is 94.1 per cent effective. Both have similar temporary side effects, and those reactions are stronger after the second shot for both,” Mendie said.

The don, however, called for caution, saying much as the second wave of COVID -19 might be associated with the new variant of the virus, there was need to ascertain its existence in Nigeria, adding that it has been noted in South Africa, UK and the U.S.
 
On the debate on the efficacy of vaccines already approved by the WHO and Nigeria’s capacity to procure and preserve enough that would go round the population, Mendie said Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna, as well as vaccines such as Oxford, Sputnik authorised by various countries were made using a newer technology called messenger RNA (mRNA). He explained that an mRNA vaccine works by encoding a portion of the spike protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The vaccines actually use pieces of the encoded protein to spark an immune response in your body. As a result, your body develops antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, that is, proteins made by your immune system to help fend off future illnesses by the virus. Once your body creates that immune response, both the protein and mRNA are eliminated, while the antibodies stick around to protect you in the future.

“The WHO approved vaccines are intended to make vaccines available to all countries particularly the low income and third world countries. Vaccine is the only drug to control and prevent the viral disease.

“Every country including Nigeria must have suitable storage and distribution facilities for the vaccines. Availability and accessibility of the vaccines is key to controlling COVID-19. Nigeria must enable adequate provisions, both in manpower, equipment and facilities to achieve this,” he stated.

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The don further stated that it might take some time for low-income countries to acquire the vaccines, adding that in the interim everyone should be expertly advised and managed with viral inhibitory medications and high dose of vitamins to boost immunity.
 
“Whilst we are awaiting the procurement of the vaccines, everyone must observe adequate personal and public health directives or COVID-19 protocols from the NCDC. These include compulsory use of face mask in public places, social distancing, hand cleaning always and other sanitary measures. It should be religiously applied together with other hygienic measures.

“The more rigid the measures are applied the better the preventive outcome. Any carelessness can expose anyone to this virus infection. It is very deadly,” he added. He noted that pharmaceutical interventions were two fold – hospital setting and home management. He added that successful medications include vitamins C, A, D, B-complex; zinc, calcium and immune boosters.

“They are taken in high doses for up to two weeks. Drugs that strengthen the cell membrane thus preventing the virus from entering the cells are equally very useful. So also are drugs that render the interior of the cells alkaline or basic, preventing the viruses from multiplying and killing the cells.

“They are known as viral inhibitory agents (VIA). Alkalinity over pH 9-14 depresses the viral multiplication. Local herbal remedies that are known to have these abilities include spices, herbal drugs, lemon drinks and alkaline fruits. They help in boosting quick recovery against COVID-19.”

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