Virologist Urges FG to Ascertain Nigerians’ Natural Immunity Before Vaccination


•Calls for adequate storage facilities for expected vaccines

Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie

An expert in Virology and Director, Centre of Human and Zoonotic Virology, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Professor Sunday Omilabu, has warned that the federal government must conduct a clinical test to ascertain the level of the natural immunity of Nigerians before administering vaccine against any form of virus.
He, therefore, recommended that anti-body testifying be done for everybody before any vaccine is given to Nigerians in order to know their level of natural immunity.

Omilabu said on The Morning Show of ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, that the immunity test is necessary as Nigeria isn’t privy to the composition of the vaccines.

“Since we are not privy to what is in the vaccine that is planned for distribution to Nigeria and other African countries, we have to be very cautious because we have an innate immunity that is trying to play down on the virus’ violence. We are not experiencing the same violence that people are getting abroad. So if a vaccine is introduced to an individual in Nigeria that has an innate immunity, that vaccine might jeopardise the immunity the Nigerian is experiencing.

“So for whoever needs to take the vaccine, government needs to be sure that those taking the vaccine really needed it. Those whose immunity is zero needs to be primed so that they will have immunity to lay on to fight the virus. The idea of vaccines is very good, but we as a nation should also make an effort to produce our own,” he stated.

Explaining how natural immunity is developed, Omilabu said: “Our natural immunity is as a result of our exposure to related coronaviruses that have been in circulation for years in the environment. Innate immunity has a role to protect the body from being infected by another related virus and that’s the principle of vaccination, to enable vaccines to develop some level of immunity in an individual, before being exposed to a wide virus stream.”
He said there was need for constant monitoring of new variant because all Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) virus normally mutates and that variances will bound following replicating cycles.

“As we have the virus going through various hosts, the virus will change some of its proteins and this will result into the so-called variance and maybe some other phenomenal features that affect the virus characteristics.

“We need to monitor the RNA virus, we need to carry out the sequencing from time to time. When drugs are introduced, the virus must change because it will like to adapt safely in an environment. It doesn’t want to go into extinction and that informs the reason why they mutate, which brings about the variance. We have several variances in circulation. We are trying to sequence a number of isolates in Lagos State and we are at an advanced stage. Once we have the results, we will share it with the scientific wards and the public at large,” he added.

According to him, the surge in the infection rate pointed clinically to a possible variant because in the past two months, the country has been noticing that in the rising cases.
“Presently, we are at the midway and as of today, we are sending out our list of viral CDNA out for sequencing and hopefully in some weeks, there will be information on the sequence circulating. Once we have our sequence information and we are satisfied with it, we will definitely share it with the public and the World Health Organisation (WHO),” Omilabu added.

Giving details about what Nigerian scientists are doing to produce COVID-19 vaccine, Omilabu said: “Nigeria has produced vaccines in the past as far as the early 50s, we produced yellow fever vaccines in Yaba, Lagos. The lab is still there locked up . So it’s do-able. We have already cultivated the virus, so we can go the simplest way by growing the virus in tissue culture, then we in-activate, the same system, which the Chinese used in the year 2020 to curb the spread of the virus.”
He however said Nigerian government must provide the required storage facilities to keep the planned distribution of vaccines to Nigeria, safe after arrival. “

Giving more details about variant strains and surveillance, Omilabu said: “We need to have an active surveillance to be monitoring the virus isolate. As they mutate, we will pick them, we will order some assistance in terms of how to cope with the new strain. The most important thing is for people to do away with contracting the virus. That’s the cheapest and most effective way of not contracting the virus. People should run away from the virus. In Africa, we know we are enjoying a sort of innate immunity, the whole world knows that, they have done some studies that actually shows that we have had a number of related coronaviruses that we usually ascribe to the common cold.

“Majority of us are carrying the virus without showing any signs and symptoms. The good thing is for us to keep to all those protocols highlighted by the NCDC.”