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COVID-19: Nigeria battles slow vaccination as variants increase infections

As Nigeria’s fate for vaccination hangs on the goodwill of countries with abundant vaccines, one main factor stands between the country and a fierce rage of the pandemic: the seeming absence of a yet virulent change in the COVID-19 virus.

It would appear that despite also detecting some of the new COVID-19 variants that have caused an unprecedented surge in infections and deaths in some other countries, Nigeria has not been explicitly overwhelmed.

But it is not impossible, Akin Abayomi, commissioner for health, Lagos State told BusinessDay.

“It is possible because the virus is changing all the time. It is the nature of pandemics, they come and subside and then they come back again and subside again. As the community get resistance to a particular strain, a new strain will evolve and try to find those who are vulnerable and then you will have another situation,” the professor of internal medicine, haematology, environmental health and biobanking, said.

“We are doing all we can to make sure that the wave is not too large. Our aim is to minimise the number of deaths ultimately,” he said.

What it implies is that if immunity from earlier infections fails and unproven theories of Africa having a strong defence in large youth population or tough weather conditions disappoint, Nigeria could face the worst pandemic event.

Read also: Concern in Ogun over 15 new cases of Delta variant of COVID-19

The virus is mutating and plays a contributory role as breach of public and social preventive measures fuel rise in infection. Vaccination remains at a level that can hardly put up a strong immune defence if the worst variant arrives.

Virus mutations occur about once every two weeks and when it does, the set of genetic instructions that contain all the information that the virus needs to function changes. These changes get replicated but errors can creep in during this process.

Depending on where in the genome mistakes occur, they can have a negative or positive impact on the virus’ ability to survive and replicate. But majority of the time, they may have no impact at all.

However, mutations that makes the virus more dangerous to humans like variants of concern such as Alpha, Betta, Gamma and Delta have occurred. These strains, in a successive pattern, have proven tougher, more infectious and have challenged the efficacy of vaccines.

“As far as the virus is concerned, every single person that it comes to is a good piece of meat,” says William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. “There’s no selection to be doing it any better.”

The emergence of new variants has had vaccinated populations face breakthrough infections while already infected individuals equally experience reinfections.

To address new variant’s attack on immunity, vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer and Moderna have been into building booster shots – vaccines that have the dual impact of boosting immunity against the original COVID-19 virus and emerging variants that could render existing vaccines ineffective.

Pfizer has found its booster shots to be more effective against the Delta variant, for instance, raising antibody levels by five to 11 times.

As a result, many haves-countries have had to make new arrangements with the drug makers to supply additional doses and make plans for vaccine distribution.

Israel will start administering these booster doses of Pfizer to people aged 60 and above, becoming the first country to widely roll out third doses to curb new infections.

Nigeria sits in a precarious situation without vaccines available.

According to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), however, the country will receive 44 million doses of original vaccine doses from the end of July to September, although observers perceive the expectation may face uncertainty.

“We expect vaccines in a few days. We are putting up all pharmaceutical measures that have been prescribed and making more plans to receive all the vaccines,” Osagie Ehanire, minister of health, told BusinessDay on the sideline of an event in Lagos last Thursday.

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