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COVID-19 vaccination: Scientists caution govt

As Nigeria prepares to receive its first consignment of COVID-19 vaccines, two scientists have cautioned the Federal Government against a mass COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Dr. Osagie Ehanire
Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Health Minister

Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, in December 2020 revealed that the Federal Government had planned to acquire vaccines worth N400 billion.

Ehanire had said that the N400 billion would be able to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 200 million population.

Nigeria had 88,587 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,294 deaths as of Saturday, January 2, 2021.

It was against this backdrop that the scientists called for caution in separate interviews in Ibadan, Oyo State, on Saturday.

A professor of  immunology, Ganiyu Arinola, said that rolling out a mass nationwide vaccine campaign might not be the the best use of resources for a resource-poor country like Nigeria.

Arinola, who is of the Department of Immunology, University of Ibadan, noted that while no amount of investment on health was a waste, “it is reasonable to spend wisely in this time of economic recession”.

The immunologist said that mass vaccination alone would not halt the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, adding that the available vaccines do not confer lifelong immunity against the virus.

“The mere availability of COVID-19 vaccine is insufficient to give broad immunological protection.

“Efficient vaccines must be safe with little side effects, inexpensive for the target population and widely effective across gender and wide geographical ranges,” he said.

In terms of its efficacy, Arinola still urged a cautious approach by the authorities.

“This is not a hundred per cent true of current COVID-19 vaccines, showing that there is room for improvement on them.

‘For instance, re-infection is likely because existing vaccines stimulate antibody production which may wane with time.

“As of now, it will be advisable to be cautious of the use of current COVID-19 vaccines because too many facts are still emerging on the vaccines.

“In low-resource country like Nigeria, certain individuals will be unqualified for COVID-19 vaccination due to age, immunocompromise status, socio-economic status and other preexisting medical conditions,” he added.

Asked if the generality of Nigerians would be favourably disposed to the vaccine, the immunologist said that there would likely be divergent views.

“Some people may disqualify themselves based on religious and cultural beliefs.

“A vaccine refusal rate greater than 10 per cent could significantly impede attainment of its goal.

“Among other concerns about COVID-19 vaccination in low resource countries is a question ‘Do their benefits outweigh the risks or how safe are the existing COVID-19 vaccines?’

“There are reports of adverse reactions and possibilities of COVID-19 not tested in — or safe for use by — some groups of people.

“People with serious health conditions or weakened immune systems may not benefit from vaccine whose effectiveness is based on host’s active immunity since these people are already immune-compromised or immune-suppressed.

“Active immunity uses various immune cells involved in the uptake and processing of vaccine antigen before production of antibodies. Other immune cells produce cytokines and other soluble immune factors.

“This brings to fore ‘Boosting immunity’. How many Nigerians have ideas about his/her immune status or how to boost immunity?

“It is imperative that immune status of individual is optimal before engaging in vaccination.

“The Federal Government must think twice before investing in a health venture with such uncertainties,” he said.

Arinola stated that Nigeria should come up with its own strategies to end the pandemic by adopting can its own unique method of fighting the virus.

“Low-cost, evidence-based and integrated control strategies are primarily needed in the country.

“In low resource setting like ours, there is need to ensure access to reliable diagnosis in order to determine the true burden of disease in the community.

“A combination of effective vaccination, treatment, and good hygienic practices will guarantee enhanced protection against COVID-19.

“There is also need to invest in infrastructure for distribution and handling of COVID-19 vaccine widely on an equitable basis.

“Also, collaboration at the international, national, regional, and local level is important,” he said.

In the same vein, Dr Olubusuyi Adewumi, a virologist at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, said that decisions on COVID-19 vaccination must be guided by scientific evidence.

Adewumi, who noted that the country had not been as hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic as other countries, said that mass vaccination may not be the best strategy for Nigeria.

“However, the question is how did we arrived at such decision. Was it guided by scientific findings? Can we afford it?” he queried.

He added that such monumental decisions must be well thought out and not based on misplaced sentiment.

By Oluwabukola Akanni

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