BEYOND COVID-19 VACCINES

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Sonnie Ekwowusi argues the need to respect the wishes of citizens about the vaccines

If the recent statement of the federal government is anything to rely on, Nigeria will take delivery of the first batch of COVID-vaccines (which is 42 million Vaccines anyway) by the end of January 2021. Nigeria has signed an agreement with the Global Vaccine Alliance Initiative (Gavi) for access to vaccines. The country has also registered for COVID-19 vaccines with the Global Access Program (COVAX) co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO). It appears that the aforesaid partners have agreed to donate vaccines covering 20% of Nigerian population free of charge. Nigeria targets to vaccinate 40% of her population by the end of 2021. The government says that the first batch of citizens to be administered with this first batch of the vaccines will include Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Secretary to the Federal Government (SFG) Boss Mustapha. This will be televised in order to inspire confidence in the people that the vaccination is worth taking.

It is important that the federal government refrains from politicizing the COVID-19 vaccination as it is doing with the COVID palliatives. To begin with, the administering of the vaccines should not be compulsory. No citizen should be deprived of anything or suffer anything or any discrimination on account of his or her refusal/failure to take the vaccines. The federal government, in consonant with international best medical practice and ethics, must respect the conscientious objection of some citizens who, for explicable or inexplicable reasons, do not want to take the vaccines. Considering all the frightening things surrounding the administering of COVID-19 vaccines, let each wayfarer, in the exercise of his or her fundamental human right, decide whether he or she wants to take the vaccines. To compel the citizens to take the vaccines simply because Osinbajo, Mustapha and probably President Buhari had done so in the full glare of the public is unlawful and unconstitutional. A vaccine which works for A may not necessarily work for B and vice-versa. In any case, prioritization of the vaccines does not translate to wiping away the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria. COVID-19 has no cure at the moment in the sense that there is no drug or medication or vaccine that has been spotted as providing cure for COVID. Health experts say that prevention is still the best way of staying safe from COVID. Vaccination is not a cure for COVID: It is just one preventive measure. In fact, medical experts say that taking of COVID-19 vaccines does not translate to immunity from contracting COVID-19. Cases of victims of COVID-19 who still died despite taking the COVID-19 vaccines abound. Besides, the COVID Vaccines are so expensive. Besides, we don’t have the storage facilities to keep the vaccines. So, it is not unlikely that the vaccines will go bad by the time they are used. We don’t even know the fertility effect of those vaccines. Some pregnant women who were administered with the vaccines had lost their babies. This probably explains why African countries such as Tanzania and Madagascar are still reluctant to accept the vaccines until they are sure the vaccines are certified safe. A survey conducted between August and December 2020 across 15 African countries- Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, and Uganda- by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) showed that a predominant majority (79% average) of respondents in Africa would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were deemed safe and effective.

· Therefore the federal government should be guided by the aforesaid facts as it acquires the Pfizer vaccines. I agree. This second wave of COVID-19 is deadlier than the first. Nigeria is under great COVID threat at the moment. Some have reportedly lost three or four folks in one week. I am scribbling this with a heavy heart. Why? Because we lost Oscar Onwudiwe, lawyer, renaissance man, immediate past president, Pan-Igbo socio-cultural group Aka Ikenga, to COVID a few days ago. I spoke with Oscar a couple of weeks ago. He not only sounded hale and hearty at that time but he thrilled me with his usual sarcastic humour. But today Oscar is no more, snatched away by the new enemy of mankind. This is the agony of many of us. So, we must do everything possible to defeat COVID-19. But this does not mean being imprudent or playing politics with the lives of citizens all in the name of COVD vaccination.

Speaking at a Zoom Press Conference organized last week by the Civil Society of Nigeria (CSO) on COVID-19 vaccination, neuroscientist Professor Phillip C. Njemanze urged the federal government to be circumspect in approving Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for Nigerians. First, one of the dangers of prioritization of the vaccines is that the COVID virus is a mutating virus which attacks the receptors in black people. So, what do we do when the virus mutates and overcomes the vaccines? queried Prof. Njemanze. A vaccine, according to him, means a specially prepared antigen administered to a person for the purpose of building the immunity of the person. But unfortunately, what the federal government is purchasing from Pfizer and Moderna are strictu sensu not vaccines but nanoscale particle device designed to genetically engineer cell spike protein production in the human body. It is important to note that the Pfizer vaccine is the first mRNA vaccine to be approved for use in human beings. We don’t know how Nigerians who will react to the vaccine after it had been administered on them. It is very dangerous to impose vaccines which had not been clinically tested in Nigeria on Nigerian citizens, concluded Njemanze.

I cannot agree less. For example, last week, 23 out of the 33,000 Norwegians that had been administered with the Pfizer COVID immunizations died. Consequently the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has cautioned against vaccinating elderly people above 80 years of age saying those with a short life span may not benefit much from the vaccines. This is why the speakers at the Zoom Conference had urged the federal government not to accept any COVID vaccine for use in Nigeria without first getting Nigerian health experts and institutions such as NAFDAC, medical doctors, nurses and others to subject it to our local clinical trial. Why? Because it is dangerous to use in Nigeria vaccines which allegedly had been tested in other countries without first subjecting them to clinical trials in Nigeria.

Therefore, it is important to first allow our health experts to ascertain whether the Pfizer vaccines are good for Nigerians before administering them to Nigerians. It is suicidal to acquire COVID vaccines from abroad and impose them on Nigerians without first subjecting them to clinical tests in Nigeria. Given the escalating surge in the COVID cases in Nigeria at the moment, the government should prioritize the use of drugs such as Ivermectin and other immunity building drugs and treatments. It is not enough to open up COVID Isolation Centres across Nigeria, the Centres should be properly equipped with oxygen and other essential medicaments. A friend died at the Yaba, Lagos Isolation Centre a few days ago due to lack of oxygen. Another person I know died at another Isolation Centre in the South-East recently owing to the same lack of oxygen. Whereas the government can afford to squander huge amounts of money in useless things, it cannot afford to spend a little amount of money to purchase oxygen and put our COVID Isolation Centres in order. Sad.