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Nigeria: Why We Cannot Produce Covid-19 Vaccines

An encouraging number of Nigerian officials including the leadership of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) have wished that Nigeria could begin production of vaccines and stop depending wholly on imports.

At his last visit to the Presidency, where he pledged that governors would be publicly administered the COVID-19 vaccine whenever it arrived, the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, rued the idea of waiting to be served by other countries and wondered why it was taking the country long to perfect processes regarding vaccine production.

The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Faisal Shuaib, has explained why Nigeria cannot produce COVID-19 vaccines or other vaccines.

Mr Shuaib, while speaking at the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 briefing on Monday, said the process of producing a vaccine requires massive investment that has not been done for many decades.

“There are questions around why Nigeria is not producing COVID-19 vaccines. I want to put on record that the process of producing a vaccine is very complex and complicated. It requires massive investment that has not been done for many decades,” he said.

Mr Faisal noted that Nigeria used to produce vaccines in its first few decades after independence in 1960, a process which, he said, suffered a setback due to the decision to adopt more advanced technologies.

“In the 1960s, we use to make yellow fever vaccines in this country. In the 90s, we decided to change analogue ways of making yellow fever vaccines to more recent technologies.

“However, that transfer of technology never happened and that is why we did not continue to make vaccines,” Mr Shuaib said.

With the recent spike in coronavirus cases across the world and new COVID variants, many countries are already on the queue to access effective vaccines for citizens.

Some of the vaccines already approved to be effective against the virus include Pfizer and bioNtech vaccine as well as Moderna and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

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The approved vaccines require two doses to provide the best possible protection, with the second dose given up to 12 weeks after the first.

Nigeria is expected to receive 100,000 doses of the Pfizer and bioNtech vaccine by the end of January, according to Mr Shuaib.

A 2017 report published by PREMIUM TIMES revealed how the Yaba Vaccine Production Laboratory was not functional.

The vaccine production centre was active for about six decades, between 1940 and 1991, producing large quantities of vaccines against smallpox, rabies, yellow fever for not only Nigeria, but neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Central Africa and a few other countries in Africa.

It was closed in 1991 by the federal government who said it wanted to reactivate and upgrade the facility. But that upgrade has not been done.

The former minister of health, Isaac Adewole, in 2017 said the government had decided to set up a joint venture company with May and Baker, a pharmaceutical company in Nigeria, to commence local production of vaccines at the Yaba facility.

Mr Adewole said the country was set to restart producing local vaccines in collaboration with the pharmaceutical giant.

He noted that May and Baker was to assist in the production of local vaccines to improve immunisation routines and reduce dependency on international donors.

Meanwhile, Mr Shuaib said there is still hope for Africa’s most populous country to start producing its own vaccines.

He said there are “genuine ongoing efforts by the federal government to restart the process of vaccines production.”

He, however, said this will involve a long and complicated process.

“It takes about 10-15 years to start producing vaccines but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” Mr Shuaib said.

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