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Nigeria seeks Okonjo-Iweala, Mohammed, Adesina, others support to secure slot for Africa’s vaccine hub

.....over 10,000 reported cases of mild reactions from first doses

Nigeria has began intense lobbying to secure a slot for the proposed African vaccine manufacturing hub, enlisting support of the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) , Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as well as the President of the African Development Bank ( AFDB), Akinwumi Adesina, amongst others to sail through.

Three countries in Africa are said to be interested to have the hub, including Nigeria. The federal government is said to be eyeing the Vaccine manufacturing company at Yaba in Lagos, which had for several years, been a vaccine manufacturing hub in Nigeria in the late 70s and early 80s, but was abandoned.

Nigerian government had earlier announced that it was working to revive the company, working with sone private investors “ we are working to strengthen it in collaboration with private investors, so that it can serve as vaccine hub in Nigeria

Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, who disclosed this while providing update on vaccine availability for the second tranche of the Covid-19 Vaccines, noted that although the country is expecting over 29m Johnson & Johnson Vaccines in August, the country must begin to look inwards to meet its own vaccines plans

This is as surge in global demands for COVID-19 vaccine ahead of the third in several countries, including India, lowered the chances of Nigeria and other countries in securing the second batch of the vaccine

Ehanire said the Nigerian government has however strengthened its lobbying of foreign partners and donor countries to secure more vaccines for its citizens in the days ahead.

Ehanire speaking at the weekly briefing of the Presidential Media Team, disclosed that the country is however ready to accept any brand of Covid vaccines from benevolent countries, after the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control NAFDAC must have certified its efficacy.

Nigerian government, according to the Minister, is already exploring available windows with the United Nations UN, the World Trade Organization WTO, the World Bank among others, so that the country can be selected for the vaccine hub.

“ We think it is good to have our own capability to produce vaccines, perhaps under license. But the effort, the energy to produce has led us to various conversations with various companies. And we have recently also been joined by eminent Nigerians who are abroad like the deputy Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, and the Director General of the world trade organisation, and also the the World Bank and Africa, African Development Bank.
“We’re having a conversation on how to get support for production in Nigeria. And there are many important countries who think that yes, they will support production in an African country. Not necessarily in Nigeria, but we are trying to bring their attention to Nigeria because of the volume the number of people we have. But they are trying to see how prepared are we to be able to produce if it is a matter of how quickly.

He disclosed that the country is expected to deposit 15% of the required funds when the plans are fully established

Ehanire also revealed that the country is expecting over 29m doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines, but warned that only vaccines approved for use in the country by the NAFDAC will be deployed.

“ We want to see how we can get more supplies to boost vaccination, especially up to 70percent vaccination target by 2022.

He warned that Nigeria has not gotten out of the woods yet, as only 2percent (2,000,000) citizens have so far been vaccinated.

He disclosed that about 29million Johnson and Johnson vaccines are being expected in the country between July and August this year, noting that India which supplied the first dose of Astra- Zeneca vaccine has reneged on further supplies owing to its dire constraints.

Ehanire also revealed that over 10,000 persons who received the first dose of vaccines complained of mild reactions like head ache, feverish conditions, some degrees of body pains among others.

According to him, such mild incidences were not enough to write-off the AstraZeneca vaccine as ineffective.

He said, “As I said, government has been extremely helpful, COVID-19 has battered the economies of many countries and we will also expect that aid from foreign countries will probably not be as generous as before. So whatever we’ll get to make best use of and also be able to work so to say lift ourselves up as a country, lift ourselves up with our own bootstraps.

“Apart from acquiring vaccines from multilateral platform, like the COVAX facility, as you know, the COVAX facility is a coalition of several groups including world health organisation, who are raising money to be able to procure vaccines for many countries in the world, 92 countries by having the benefit of large volume, economies of scale.

“But many of the orders that have been placed have also been delivered because other countries are prioritizing and COVAX wants to give us enough vaccines to vaccinate up to 20% of our population. And the 20% will be free in that we don’t need to pay except the cost of delivering the vaccine.

“But we have a target of vaccinating 70%. Some countries are happy with 60%, but to have what we call health immunity as determined by science, that if you had that number of persons vaccinated, then you have a far less risk, you have reduced the risk of community transmission within your own country.

“So we all have to police our borders properly, and also ensure that neighbouring countries are also equally vaccinated so that traffic and movement will not lead to new outbreaks.

“So we are working with the West African Health Organisation to monitor the vaccine delivery around in countries in West Africa. And they also monitor the way they have being dispensed and finally the traffic between all the countries or among the countries of West Africa, in that respect”.

Commenting on the low positivity test rate in Nigeria presently, which he placed at 1-100,000(1person testing positive in 100,000 persons). He said we still have to maintain our guard against the virus.

“The first thing I would like to say is that we are not yet out of the woods, there is no declaration of victory yet, we are still going to continue all the measures needed to keep our country and our citizens safe. And these methods are, first of all, what we call the public health measures, non-pharmaceutical intervention, wearing of masks, washing
your hands regularly and avoiding all kinds of congregations that will make people too close to each other, especially if you have an enclosed space.

“So enclosed spaces, with large number of people are high risk, and they are very, very much prone to what we call super spreader status.

“For that reason, we want to especially advice, religious congregations, sporting congregations, particularly in markets, all those areas where people gather, markets so far as they open are probably a little bit less risky, but if it is a closed environment is risky”

He said the Presidential Steering Committee has been very keen on therapeutic aspect of the control measures, insisting that the Federal Executive Council under President Muhammadu Buhari just approved funds for 38 oxygen plants to be set up across the entire Federation.

“We have been improving on therapeutics, the government has been extremely supportive in helping to make sure that the therapeutics for COVID-19 are there. Just yesterday, the Federal Executive Council approved 38 brand new oxygen plants, that would be sited one in every state and federal Capital Territory. Lagos because of the high proportion of illnesses that they are suffered, are going to get two. So that gives you 38 plants which have been approved and they will be completed within about 20 weeks or so. So, the supply of oxygen will be more assured by that time. And because oxygen has been found to be the main, the most important therapeutic in dealing with acute COVID-19.

“Of course, the other medications which we have placed order for that is the dexonecazone, and steroids that are used to treat COVID cases.

“Now the third one is a vaccine, which has come out and which is subject matter of today’s briefing.

“Vaccines were developed towards the end of last year in the few countries, United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia, and then also in Cuba and a few other countries. Even in Nigeria we have tried too, we have vaccine candidates here. But the ones that are ready to use are made in a few countries.

“But we in Africa have not been able to have the full access that we want to vaccine. We do not manufacture yet, we are looking for collaboration in that regard. But access to vaccine has been very limited because there are countries that have promised to give us the vaccines but who at the moment have actually promised to deliver many months from now. They want to take care of their own needs first as their own citizens and the immediate environment.

“The over 4 million doses we have received so far have all come from India. And as you all know, India is facing serious challenges right now with massive COVID infection, which is necessitating their turning their vaccine production to themselves and to their neighbourhood. And they have told us that they can’t supply us yet until a bit later in the year.

“But even what is happening in India is an example of what we want to avoid. We want to be proactive, we want to be preemptive. It means we want to do everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t get here, everything we can to halt it at every level, that rudimentary level so they doesn’t threaten citizens to that extent.

So our focus right now is to preempt and in looking at the so called third wave, which has battered so many countries right now. And we are trying to see that we do not get that.

“Now one of the visions that we have is to also be able to produce our own vaccines because the deficit is such that only about 2% or less of Africans are vaccinated whereas other countries have got about 30 something percent, and somehow didn’t go 60% of their population and related. So we are at the very bottom.

And that leads us to say well, we think it is good to have our own capability to produce vaccines, perhaps under licence because we produce under licence, it is the fastest and the perhaps the most immediate way. Or you develop your own vaccine candidates and go through the whole process. But the effort, the energy to produce has led us to various conversations with various companies. And we have recently also being joined by eminent Nigerians who are abroad like the deputy Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, and the Director General of the world trade organisation, and also the the World Bank and Africa, African Development Bank.

The rest of the initiative we have is with the African vaccine acquisition task team which was set up by the African Union, to also do the safety procurement, that if you gather your money together, you can negotiate better. First of all a lower rate. I can also attract producers by saying, if this person is ordering 10,000, this man is ordering 10 million, then the 10 million brings you more money, you will want to attend easily and quickly to that one, rather than every country going to place, small, small order.

About 47 African countries have agreed to join this task team. It is chaired by the president of South Africa. And they’re trying to pull the vaccines First of all, that will be most affordable for Africa, that has been found to be more effective for our continent, and also to reduce the price.

So we’re working in that platform also, it is being backed by the Africa Export Import Bank, afreximbank. With $2 billion we will open an account there to be able to pay into it once we are given our allocation of vaccines.

As it is now, the earliest we can hope for probably July, or probably we are very lucky end of July, about probably about probably August, we will look at it. As for the details of dispensing what we’ve had so far, we received 3.92 million doses from the COVAX facility, we have received 100,000 donated by the Government of India. So we go slightly over 4 million doses. And we had planned that we are going to vaccinate all four million people. And in vaccinating 4 million people, the next batch of vaccine would have arrived and we would be giving the second dose to those who are vaccinated.

But when messages we can clear that we may not get that second batch in time because India had this outbreak, and they have used their vaccine, and they want to convert the vaccines they produce for their own use and for the use of the neigbhours Pakistan, Afghanistan and so all those who are moving around in that area, we knew that we couldn’t get our own second dose. And if the time elapses too much, I before we give me a second dose that tells us we expire, and it might mean that you start from scratch.

So we change the tactics and say well, rather than half a million half vaccinated, we should have 2 million fully vaccinated and already.

So the second dose we have started administering to all those who are eligible. There are some countries that didn’t do that. And they are now very anxious, and if they don’t get a second dose, it might mean that they have to begin again, within the time that was prescribed, and they prescribe time is about 12 weeks, which we were on.

So as from eight weeks, we started giving second doses, so that at least 2 million are secured. And then we hope that by the time we finish with that second those who will have got something, this time might be Johnson and Johnson or it might be the same AstraZeneca or any other thing because we are ready now to take any vaccine.

We even have a few deep freezers for the minus 80 that we can use if that is the only one that is available, that comes right now.

As I speak, we have not been offered vaccines from Europe or America, only from India. Also our development partners are helping us to understand our needs and then be able to speak for low income countries to get their vaccine going.

“And let me emphasise again, we’re not out of the woods. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is till long and we have a long way to go. So we need to continue with non-pharmaceutical interventions, as seriously. As from the first day, we knew that it was important. We need to continue with hand washing, wearing masks, avoiding gathering and avoiding crowds and all the measures that we have put in place to protect ourselves and our community and also to keep the vulnerable.

“Stay at home, do not travel unless it’s absolutely necessary. We also advise against traveling to high burden countries at the moment, whereby we have identified India, Turkey and Brazil as very high burden. And also any other country that has a high burden. If you’re planning to travel, don’t travel there yet, even within the country or less a very necessary travel, don’t travel because the more you move around, the more the risk of crossing the path of someone who is infected, who can infect you.

“So as much as possible, stay at home, particularly the elderly, and also the vulnerable who have pre existing conditions like asthma, HIV, tuberculosis, hypertension, diabetes, to stay away from any risky area, the risky area is when somebody is no wearing a mask and wants to talk to you. Because somebody can have COVID-19 and have no symptoms and can pass it to somebody else and that person who gets it can suffer very severe adverse disease.

“So the safe thing is that if you want to talk to anybody, and they know when the mask, please decline any conversation. Because they may very well, very healthy but might be a carrier who can infect you, and you might not be as resilient as he is.

“So the mask wearing is still very important. And all the measures that have to do with sanitising must be maintained. And we rely on the press here to help us to propagate that message all the time and remind people around you all the time to take measures to safeguard themselves, their families, their friends, and then the community”.

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