Distribution of the novel coronavirus vaccine has regained traction in Nigeria after high level of anxiety over side effects of the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine has been significantly addressed by a slew of efficacy endorsements by foreign health authorities.
The controversy over the side effects of the vaccine, including fears of blood clotting, has amplified the vulnerability of dependence on vaccine aids from developed nations, prompting The Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to challenge Nigeria on vaccine independence.
The development came as Federal Ministry of Health declared that it would adopt persuasion in driving vaccination in the country as doubts over the long term impact linger about the vaccines which are yet attain full cycle approval processes.
The ministry’s position follows non-cooperation of the Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State in the vaccine rollout which has reached all states of the country except the North Central state whose government continues to describe threats posed by coronavirus disease as exaggerated.
Concerns over suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine by European countries amid growing cases of infection and suspicions of side effects threw the highly celebrated vaccine roll out programme in Nigeria into confusion, raising concerns over the low capacity of local regulators and drug manufacturing industry to independently analyze and verify the quality of vaccines imported by government.
Former chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Mike Ogirima, stated in secondary reports that Nigeria now needs to develop capacity for independent evaluation on the local recipients of the vaccine and guarantee safe application of products in the ongoing vaccine roll out.
Health experts who have participated on radio and television discussions on the vaccine panic advocated precautionary and incident response measures as the vaccine programme which has started with health workers continues to cascade into the population.
Some of the measures advanced by experts include public sensitization on likely life threatening side effects, adoption of standard scientific methods of resolving emerging issues and coordinated emergency response mechanisms for reported side effects.
They all agreed on the need for extreme caution as the vaccine continues to penetrate the population.
While the debate rages locally, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and regulators in the United States, Chile and Peru determined weekend that the vaccine has neither quality nor efficacy issues, adding that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
Oxford University which developed the vaccine in liaison with AstraZeneca described the product as “vaccine for the world,” saying it has been determined by clinical trials in central America to be safe and 79 percent effective.
Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford co-designer of the vaccine, said in a statement, “In many different countries and across age groups, the vaccine is providing a high level of protection against covid-19 and we hope this will lead to even more widespread use of the vaccine in the global attempts to bring the pandemic to an end.”
Oxford researchers also stated that the coronavirus vaccine is “safe and highly effective, adding to previous trial data from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, as well as real-world impact data from the United Kingdom.”
In the trials, which included 32,000 participants in all age groups, the volunteers received either two standard doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine or a placebo vaccine, at a four-week interval, the Oxford researchers said. The researchers said that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board in the United States “reported no safety concerns among the participants receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.”
The results were reported in a brief press release. AstraZeneca said it will be submitting the full results to the scientific community in a peer-reviewed medical journal, and to the regulators at the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration to seek emergency approval for use.
In Nigeria where the vaccine was jubilantly imported and is currently being distributed along government channels, there has been no dull moment even at the time concerns over threatening side effects were suspected in Europe where the vaccine is developed and produced for emergency use.
Call s for the suspension of the vaccine because of investigations launched by EMA and WHO over reported cases of life threatening blood clotting were ignored by federal and state governments which have continued to scramble for doses currently being administered to the rich and powerful.
Whereas the suspense was resolved weekend with regulators authorizing redeployment of the vaccine without any attempt at ruling out side effects Dr Okonjo-Iweala is challenging Nigeria to muster capacity for the raging vaccine diplomacy as a matter of security and economic imperative.
She called on African nations to develop emergency capacity programme to cover its 1.3 billion population with OVID-19 vaccines, warning that the continent must discontinue dependence on the Western countries for vaccine supplies.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala decried Africa’s reliance and dependence on peer states like China, Russia and India for vaccines under the international COVAX initiative; warning that mass importation of poor quality vaccines under the initiative could deliver long term adverse impact on the continent.
She made it clear that local manufacturing should guarantee vaccine security, ensure quality, protect patients, and foster trust in vaccine safety.