Nigeria Pre-qualified for COVID-19 Vaccines, Not Disqualified, Says WHO

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•Country to get 16m doses of AstraZeneca vaccines
•Israeli hospital allegedly finds cure for virus

Deji Elumoye and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said Nigeria is among countries pre-qualified to access COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility. WHO said contrary to reports about the exclusion of Nigeria from vaccine deployment, the country was among the nine countries recommended as ready to deploy the Pfizer vaccine. It also disclosed that all countries on the continent were expected to start accessing the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines by the end of February.

The clarification came as the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) on Saturday expressed readiness to begin the development and production of vaccines to tackle coronavirus locally.

Nigeria’s reported disqualification from deployment of COVAX Vaccine had sparked public concern, necessitating a statement from WHO to put the record straight.
Addressing a joint press conference by WHO and Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Country Representative of the world health body, Dr. Walter Molumbo, debunked reports that Nigeria and some other countries on the continent had been disqualified from assessing the vaccine due to unpreparedness.

Molumbo said, “WHO has not disqualified any country in Africa from accessing COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, but rather, is supporting all countries to access vaccines as quickly as possible.”

Of the 88 million Astra Zeneca doses allocated to African countries for the first phase, Nigeria has received by far the largest allocation, with 16 million doses, Molumbo said.
WHO said the vaccine was under review for Emergency Use Listing, adding that the outcome was expected soon.

Molumbo explained that in addition to the Astra Zeneca doses, there was an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine available through COVAX. He said the demand for the initial allocation of 1.2 million Pfizer doses was exceptionally high.

According to him, “COVAX received interest from 72 countries around the world, of which 51 countries were considered by the review committee as ‘ready’ (Nigeria was among these countries) and 18 countries in total were finally chosen to receive initial Pfizer doses.
“On the Africa continent, as of the 18 January deadline, COVAX received 13 submissions and a multi-agency committee evaluated the proposals of which 9 were recommended as ready to deploy the Pfizer vaccine including Nigeria.

“Unfortunately, it was not feasible to provide each of these 51 countries with Pfizer doses, due to a number of factors including the limited capacity for Pfizer to handle many countries at once. Therefore, spreading the limited doses across all the 51 countries deemed ‘ready’ could have not achieved the intended public health benefit.”

Molumbo further explained that after epidemiological data was taken into account, “The decision was taken to proportionally balance the number of self-financing and AMC Participants, as well as Participants across all 6 WHO regions.”

WHO was reported to have announced the commencement of shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to African countries, including Cape Verde, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tunisia. The world body said about 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received WHO emergency use, would be deployed to the four countries this month.

Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said the clarification by WHO had become necessary to ensure Nigeria was not brought to ridicule.
Shuaib said, “As clearly stated by the WHO Regional Director, there are a number of factors that were considered in allocating the small quantity of the 320,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to Covax countries.

“These include the mortality rates from COVID-19, the number of new cases, the trend in the number of cases, the population of countries and the availability of the appropriate Cold Chain equipment.”

He said countries, such as South Africa, which received the Pfizer allocation, had a new strain of the COVID-19 virus and the highest mortality rates and was struggling to contain its transmission. Shuaib explained that giving smaller countries such as Cape Verde and Rwanda few doses of the Pfizer vaccine would have a larger public health implication considering their population size.

He stated, “100,000 doses to Nigeria, we have all agreed would have been a drop in the ocean. So, it is a welcome development that we are receiving 16 million doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine to replace the Pfizer vaccine in the same month of February. The 16 million doses will invariably help us reach more of our population and is suited to our existing cold chain system.”

Meanwhile, AMLSN has expressed readiness to begin the development and production of vaccines to tackle coronavirus.
Addressing newsmen at the end of an emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on Saturday in Abuja, National President of AMLSN, Professor James Damen, said members of the group had the capacity to deliver on local vaccines.

While commending the efforts of the federal government in sourcing and strengthening local vaccine production, he advised that incoming foreign vaccines must be subjected to further validation by relevant indigenous bodies to ensure their safety and effectiveness in Nigeria.

Damen stated, “Imported vaccines must be such that will be easily adaptable in our clime in view of our peculiar weather. The said vaccine(s) must also be subjected to in-country validation procedures to ascertain their safety and effectiveness in line with international best practices.

“NEC wishes to assure Nigerians that as Medical Laboratory Scientists, who are skilled in knowledge and techniques of vaccine(s) production, we are ready to start the development and production of indigenous vaccines against SARS-COV-2 in collaboration with other stakeholders and, indeed, all other infectious diseases. All we need is adequate funding and necessary laboratory infrastructure.”

Nigeria Welcomes AU’s Coronavirus Response Special Fund

Nigeria has lauded the efforts of the African Union (AU) to establish a Coronavirus Response Special Fund aimed at tackling the menace of COVID-19 pandemic in the continent. President Muhammadu Buhari gave the commendation at State House, Abuja, during a virtual extraordinary meeting with other African Heads of State. He stressed the need for AU to ensure the proper immunisation of at least 60 per cent of the continent’s population.

According to him, AU’s establishment of a Coronavirus Response Special Fund with the objective to implement measures to mitigate the socio-economic and humanitarian impact of coronavirus in Africa, including boosting the capacity of the African Centre for Disease Control, is commendable.

Buhari, whose speech was delivered by Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyema submitted that in view of the results on the ground, “Africa must be commended even as we begin the implementation of a mitigation strategy. The imperative for the immunisation of 60 per cent of Africans with safe and secure vaccines cannot be overemphasised. Nigeria, therefore, welcomes the decision to establish the coronavirus African Vaccine Acquisition Capacity to accelerate the financing and procurement of coronavirus vaccines for the continent.

“We continue to appreciate the remarkable progress by the team with respect to securing a provisional 270 million coronavirus vaccines doses for Africa along with Africa Medical Supply platform and other laudable initiatives already in place.

“In my capacity as ECOWAS Champion on Coronavirus, Nigeria has provided logistics support, including the freight in of critical covid-19 medical supplies distributed to other ECOWAS member states.

“The coronavirus pandemic has created additional burden to our public health system and posed a major challenge to the gains made in the socio-economic development and overall wellbeing of our continent. The outbreak of the second wave of the pandemic has not made the situation any better. I commend the African Centre for Disease Control for rising to the occasion by ensuring the implementation of set priorities.

“I also commend other efforts and support extended to the regional economic communities and member states. The leadership provided by the Assembly Bureau, the cooperation of the African Union Commission and regional economic cooperation, including the support from partners have been exemplary.”

On the home front, the president disclosed that at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, priority was given to the vulnerable, including women, children, older persons and the unemployed in a bid to provide medical and social assistance to mitigate the socio-economic effects of the disease.

Buhari further stressed that Nigeria was committed to working with other member states in the spirit of regional cooperation and solidarity to promote human health and general wellbeing.

He added, “We will continue to partner with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the African Centre for Disease Control and West African Health Organisation as well as other countries to ensure accelerated development and manufacturing as well as unhindered supply of safe and effective coronavirus vaccines to all Africans.”

Israeli Hospital Allegedly Finds Cure for Covid-19, Says All Treated Patients Make Full Recovery

A new coronavirus treatment being developed at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center has successfully completed phase 1 trials and appears to have helped numerous moderate-to-serious cases of COVID-19 quickly recover from the disease, the hospital said Friday.

Hailing a “huge breakthrough,” the hospital said Prof. Nadir Arber’s EXO-CD24 substance had been administered to 30 patients, whose conditions were moderate or worse, and all 30 recovered — 29 of them within three to five days.

The medicine fights the cytokine storm — a potentially lethal immune overreaction to the coronavirus infection that is believed to be responsible for much of the deaths associated with the disease.

It uses exosomes — tiny carrier sacs that shuttle materials between cells — to deliver a protein called CD24 to the lungs, which Arber has spent decades researching.

“This protein is located on the surface of cells and has a well known and important role in regulating the immune system,” said researcher Shiran Shapira of Arber’s lab, adding that the protein helps calm down the immune system and curb the storm.

“The preparation is inhaled once a day for a few minutes, for five days,” Arber said, noting, “The preparation is directed straight to the heart of the storm — the lungs — so unlike other formulas… which selectively restrain a certain cytokine, or operate widely but cause many serious side effects, EXO-CD24 is administered locally, works broadly and without side effects.”

The medicine will now move on to further trial phases, but hospital officials were already hailing it as a possible game-changer in fighting serious COVID-19 illness.

Ichilov Director, Roni Gamzu, the former coronavirus czar, said the research “is advanced and sophisticated and may save coronavirus patients. The results of the phase 1 trial are excellent and give us all confidence in the method [Arber] has been researching in his lab for many years. I am proud that at Ichilov, we are… possibly bringing a blue and white remedy to a terrible global pandemic.”

Edo Advocate Strict Compliance to Safety Protocols

Edo State Government has urged religious leaders and their followers to complement efforts of the government at curbing the spread of the second wave of COVID-19 by strictly adhering to health and safety guidelines to contain a further spread of the pandemic.

Health Educator, Edo State Ministry of Health, Mrs. Felicia Omakoro gave the charge while briefing journalists in Benin City, the state capital.

She urged religious leaders to ensure that their followers compulsorily and properly use facemasks, wash their hands regularly and observe social distancing in order to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

According to the health educator, “Currently, Edo State Government is ensuring that all structures are put in place to curtail the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease.

“We have gone around sensitising stakeholders and the general public on the need for compulsory use of facemasks and sanitizers, among other guidelines against the spread of the virus.

“We have also engaged with Christian and Islamic leaders to reduce their population to thirty per cent and ensure that every member uses facemask,” she added.
Omakoro said the state government had trained teachers and health workers and sensitised them on the federal government’s directives and guidelines to contain COVID-19.

“Edo Government recently inaugurated some police personnel that are working with the COVID-19 Response Team especially, the Risk Communication Team. They are moving round communities in the state to ensure everyone is wearing a facemask,” She noted.