One of the major ways of defeating a pandemic is by achieving herd immunity. This can only occur when about 70% of the population has been successfully vaccinated. However, in addition to getting vaccinated, there still remains a need to maintain protocols such as hand hygiene and the use of face masks in public.
A recent webinar series hosted by Nigerian multinational energy company, Oando, focused on the COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges facing its adoption in Nigeria. The major challenges identified include speculation, supply and ignorance surrounding the science of vaccines, amidst other issues.
According to Dr Ngozi Onyia, the MD of Paelon Memorial Hospital, the existence of the vaccine doesn’t mean that people should suspend protocols such as regular hand-washing and the use of face masks. She also pointed out that some recipients of the vaccine may experience an increased predisposition to blood clots. She believes this should not discourage people from taking the vaccine as the former condition can be handled by medical professionals. She also referenced her experience and the fact that she had to do a D-dimer test. Her hospital is also conducting the D-Dimer Test for its patients at no additional cost to them and hopes to publish its findings in a bid to contribute to the body of knowledge on the subject. Paelon Hospital has also partnered with the NCDC by using its facilities to accelerate the vaccination roll-out process.
Meanwhile, Edwin Ikhuoria, the Africa Executive Director for the ONE campaign, made a case for increased involvement by Africa in the production of vaccines. He also commended organizations like COVAX who have made it possible for nations with surplus doses to donate their excess to countries in dire need of the vaccine. But in addition to the possibility of having more local subsidiaries of global pharmaceutical companies, Mr Ikhuoria emphasized the need to develop local capacity.
“A key learning for us is that it is time for Africa to move away from dependency on the west for its own vaccines and medicines. If there is anything this pandemic has taught us, it is that when the chips are down, you are on your own,” he said.
In terms of the strategy of distributing the vaccine, Dr Olaolu Aderinolu, the Head, Response Unit of the NCDC mentioned that the frontline health workers and key government officials were the first to receive the vaccine. This was done with the understanding that it would be easier for medical personnel to get their patients to take the vaccine after they had already received it. He also mentioned that the NPHCDA (National Primary Healthcare development Agency) has sufficient experience with the roll-out of vaccination programmes, citing the eradication of Polio which was achieved by the Agency. Lastly, according to Dr Aderinolu, the use of traditional leaders and influencers will go a long way in driving the message about vaccination.
Dr Chizoba Wonodi, who is the Country Director for John Hopkins University International Vaccine Access Centre maintained that people should not compare vaccine trials and potency figures on a head-to-head basis. Citing the difference in test procedures and different trial studies, she cited technology transfer to Africa, allowing Africans to possess the know-how thus facilitating manufacture on the continent. Not only would this effectively lower the cost of such medications, but also grant Africans as a whole faster access to life-saving treatment. This makes it easier to deploy such treatments while reducing the cost of transportation. “As a country, we need to consider which vaccines best suit our system and do not require huge investments in delivering to the end users,” she explained.
She also added that Pregnant women were specifically not involved in the trials for the vaccine. However, it is safer for at-risk pregnant mothers to receive the vaccine as their chances of spontaneous abortion are higher in the event that they contract the virus. In conclusion, she urged the general public to join in the fight against misinformation by only forwarding verified information whilst encouraging people to register for vaccination.
Overall, the webinar outlined the challenges and optimism surrounding the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine across Africa and the opportunities presented. As much as difficulties are being experienced, there is a perceptible sense of optimism. Presently, only 4 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered to Nigeria, while there is hope that further deliveries will be made in the nearest future. Both the Panel moderator, Mr Ademola Ogunbanjo, GM Business Support group, Oando Energy Resources and Mr Edmund Ikhuoria are survivors of COVID-19 and shared their experiences.
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By Ogodilieze Osaji-Ugo