By Adewale Kupoluyi
The casualty ravaging the world from the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) may gradually be on the decline following the development of vaccines against the deadly virus. In the last few months, economies have been shut down, many people have been killed by the pandemic, the use of face masks and shield have become the ‘new normal’ while perpetual fear has remained part and parcel of our daily lives. It was, therefore, a thing of joy that the road to defeating the virus is getting wider by the day, but this is not without looking at some contending issues without further delay.
To start with, there have been reported cases of adulterated or fake vaccines in the market. This appears to be the most dangerous source of concern as far as vaccination and vaccines are concerned. It is common knowledge that a major challenge facing the administration of food and drugs in the country is that of fake, adulterated and substandard products. Apart from the huge monetary loss to innocent victims or buyers of dangerous drugs, consuming them can be lethal since the ailments requiring medication remain untreated. Kudos to leading pharmaceutical companies that have started the production of doses of the vaccines whereby each patient is eligible to take two doses, but the way and manner that doses of the vaccines would be administered should attract public attention since the quantity of available vaccines is inadequate or meagre when compared to the population size in Nigeria.
To ensure that batches of the vaccines are appropriately administered in terms of rationing, priority should be accorded frontline health workers and the aged while other vulnerable citizens should follow. If care is not taken, the rich, affluent and top government officials could hijack the process at the expense of those identified above. Attempts must be made to cater for all. We recall that during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, high-income countries bought up the available stocks while poorer countries could not access the vaccines until after several years. To be pro-active, several countries have now signed up to a pooled purchasing scheme that is designed to ensure a fairer distribution of vaccines. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which was founded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Gavi, which is Caccine Alliance, have already saved the lives of millions under the childhood immunisation schemes through the delivery of two billion doses by the end of 2021 by allowing participating countries to immunise 20 percent of their populations.
No doubt, the serious threat from COVID-19 makes vaccination challenging and a serious matter, most especially when the demand for vaccine doses far surpasses supply; there is the temptation for people to be naturally selfish and focus on their immediate interests. This is at variance with what transpired a few months back when the pandemic brought an unusual sense of solidarity, but with the huge financial burden of procuring vaccines today, everyone appears to fend for themselves because money is now involved. The truth is that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused so much apprehension and anxiety that the distribution of vaccines was needed to douse tension when properly handled. The release of N10 billion by the government to support local production of vaccines should make a difference in Nigeria, if properly managed.
The efforts of state governments to complement that of the Federal Government in the procurement of vaccines are commendable. This intervention should not be taken hook, line, and sinker without due diligence and adhering to necessary regulations. This concern is fuelled by the disposition and contempt often displayed by some governors when it comes to following rules. Many of the governors behave as mini-gods considering the enormous powers they weild. The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) should, therefore, monitor the states closely for compliance.
Furthermore, the memory of what transpired in 2003 in five states under Northern Nigeria cannot be forgotten so easily when they boycotted the immunisation campaign for oral polio vaccine due to fears that it was unsafe. In time past, people have refused to take vaccines because they were allegedly brought into the country to reduce the population. These unfounded claims are bound to be pronounced, especially with the various conspiratory theories suggesting that COVID-19 was man-made and that certain powerful persons sponsored the creation of the virus, to reduce the African population. Even though it is difficult to ascertain or prove the veracity of these claims, the right thing to do by the government is to dispel the myth and adequately educate the people on why they should partake in the vaccination.
Non-governmental actors have critical roles to play in clearing the air on the misconception, effective strategies for combating misinformation, the merits and inherent dangers of vaccination and vaccines. Proper handling of the vaccines is also key due to their perishability. As a chain process covering transportation, storage, retrieval and the like, those saddled with these duties should be properly trained and equipped to handle the assignments. The delicate nature of the vaccines make them susceptible to damage, if not properly handled. I can imagine what would have happened to the people when they are immunised with contaminated and impotent vaccines that had either been infected or destroyed by high temperature, as most of the vaccines are better stored at low temperature of about -70 degree Celcius.
The required infrastructure should be provided to preserve the potency and equally safeguard our health workers from the hazards of work they are regularly exposed to. This makes it imperative once again, the patriotic call for proper funding and remuneration of health workers. Effective monitoring should be accorded priority. This is to ensure that in the event of any reactions or side effects occasion by the administration of the vaccines, health professionals can fully take control to minimise casualty as was the case in the United States of America and Norway within days when their citizens received their first dose of the vaccines. People should be monitored for reactions such as fever, nausea, severe pain at the injection site and allergic conditions, among others. Fighting COVID-19 successfully requires a combination of several factors bordering on infection mitigation, therapeutics and vaccines. While the availability of vaccines is a positive development that humanity is truly advancing towards ending the pandemic, other non-pharmaceutical measures should not be abandoned.
It is instructive to mention that despite the euphoria of breakthrough, some virologists have strongly advised against the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines at the moment, arguing that it is unnecessary to introduce vaccines to Nigerians now since 70 percent of the country’s population can naturally develop antibodies against the virus. The virologists had reasoned that the people should rather be allowed to use their herd immunity, which they are enjoying as a natural gift and that, the government should forget about massive vaccination for now and concentrate on the few people that have some medical conditions that had compromised their level of herd immunity. In these trying times and second wave of the pandemic, we should never forget to always avoid crowds, maintain social distancing, wash hands regularly, use alcohol-based sanitisers, wear face masks correctly, report strange feelings to relevant health authorities, and more importantly, be sincere and stop playing politics with COVID-19.
Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State @AdewaleKupoluyi