From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government Thursday said despite its eagerness to produce COVID-19 vaccine locally, the $1.5 million cost of clinical trial is threatening the dream as its unsure of how to secure the money.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, made this disclosure when he featured at the ministerial media briefing organized by the Presidential Communication Team at the presidential villa, Abuja on Thursday.
According to him, a Nigerian researcher has developed a COVID-19 vaccine candidate with a high probability to succeed but the cost of clinical trial has become an obstacle.
He however said, government may seek for alternative funding by reaching out to would be sponsors who would recoup their investment when the vaccine is successful.
Osagie, who was responding to a question on the progress on local vaccine production, said: “There is no personal interest in this. There are at least two, perhaps even three, Nigerian laboratories that have developed what you call vaccine candidates.
“In fact, yesterday, we also talked to a fourth Nigerian laboratory, based in Maryland, USA, he has also produced his own vaccine candidate. A vaccine candidate means that you have already been able to get the antigen, you have produced something that will work.
“Now, you have to do what is called the clinical trials; clinical trial means you go through testing to show that it’s safe, it doesn’t cause a problem. Secondly, that it does what it promises to do; generate antibodies in your system. Okay.
“So, you go through those clinical trials, which are very detailed and they are expensive.
“One of our researchers here, who has produced such a candidate, I asked him, how much do you think you’ll need to go through these clinical trials; phase one, phase two, phase three, he said at least $1.5 million.
“That’s a lot. Do we have that now to test a vaccine?
“Well, we say we look for sources where we can get the sponsors, because the sponsorship is what you need.
“What some people do is that they invest in it and then once you produce the vaccine it’s successful, they buy it and that means you are done. But if it turns out not to have worked, your money is gone.
“It’s hard to find a way to sponsor these clinical trials because the are expensive and they have a very good chance of being successful, but some of them also have a good chance of not being strong enough you know, the trick of efficacy. The efficacy means how well it works.
“So, we want to support our own vaccine and do the necessary thing to make sure they come out, but we are looking for the funds to support and also the necessary technical and whatever other backings that are required to get them to a level where they can… not only shall we be proud, it will be cheaper for us, we can be able to export also.
“So, we are looking at that, and that’s in fact our preference. We know that those who are producing vaccine now, we are at their mercy and I’ve said before that even if you have money now, you may not even get your vaccine.”
Recall that the federal government had in February set aside the sum of N0 billion, fund, which the minister affirmed, had not been used.
Meanwhile, the minister explained the reason behind the delay in getting the supplementary budget ready for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines for Nigerians.
According to him, government wants to get a clearer picture of the different prices of the available vaccines, before submitting a budget.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan had in March 30th, after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, had told State House Correspondents that the President was expected to supplementary budget in order to provide for funding of the COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria, as well as security, more resources to the security agencies to address challenges.
But the minister of health disclosed on Thursday while featuring on the Presidential Ministerial Press Briefing organized by the Presidential Communications Team at the presidential villa, Abuja, said the figures are still in rough stages and would soon be done tuned.
Osagie said: “There are different prices of the vaccines and we don’t really know exactly the one we’re getting. And we also know that the ones we’re getting from COVAX is at no cost to us. So what we’re doing is that the additional ones that we’re going to get will take care of 50 million Nigerians, COVAX will take care of 20 million, they are even offering to take care of more than that, maybe up to 30 million.
“The prices vary, some vaccines are in the neighborhood of $20 or $30, others are $5 or $6. So to really make a budget, we are working on rough sketch, some money have been earmarked. But Mr. President has also announced that there will be a supplementary budget. But we want to get a clearer picture first, before you actually submit a budget.
“So, we only have rough figures and as soon as those figures are there we can continue. We are also looking for perhaps, as I said, if we have to make the the payments, we can find some money to do that. But when that budget time comes, we need some precise information.”
Asked to give an idea of a rough figure, Osagie said: “Well, I can’t disclose any figure to you now because is not something we can immediately put out because as I said before, the prices are different.
“We are looking at Johnson and Johnson now, but if for example, we are to get more AstraZeneca vaccine, there is a steep difference between the two. And then again, if they are going to give you the Pfizer vaccine, Pfizer was on the original list of COVAX and that is different. So we’re not really going to go public but very soon we will once we have all the figures.”
On his part, Executive Secretary of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, the government will strongly collaborate with religious and traditional leaders, to convince more citizens to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
He assured Nigerians that the vaccine is safe, as he called on those who have not yet taken to do so.
Shuaib noted that many conspiracy theories are going on pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine but none is true as he stressed that the vaccine is safe because it has been scientifically proven as safe for use by humans.
He revealed that already over 1.9 million Nigerians have so far taken the first jab of the vaccine while over 148 thousand have taken the second jab.
“In terms of specific numbers, as of today, 1, 961, 883, of the targeted eligible Nigerians have been vaccinated with their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Similarly, about 148, 258 Nigerians have already received their second doses across the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja,” he said.
He urged Nigerians to embrace the community ownership of the vaccination exercise, as the Sultan of Sokoto and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria have accepted to help.
He said: “We are been proactive by inviting families to say ok, we are going to give the COVID-19 vaccine for free and in line with this, we are also using the fact that our traditional and religious leaders were very critical towards making sure that here is community ownership of the Polio eradication drive.
“So, we understand there are people who have doubts about the vaccine. We are engaging with religious leaders through platforms such as the Nigerian Interfaith Action Association, led by the Sultan of Sokoto on the Muslim side and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, to see how correct information about the vaccination can be provided to all Nigerians.”
Shuaib also informed said that they have been mild cases of side effects from those who have taken the vaccine.
“We have a total of 10, 027 mild cases of adverse events following the immunization, which include symptoms such as swelling or mild pain at the site of the injection.
“We have also had up to 86 cases of moderate to severe adverse events following the immunization; people who said they had fever, headaches, diarrhea, some had dizziness and there are a few people who said they felt like fainting.
“These are within the spectrum of the potential side effects that people can face after they take the vaccination,” Dr Shuaib explained.
Also speaking, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu said the country is steadfast in handling the COVID-19 situation, despite the successes already recorded.