By Doris Obinna
With the recent increase in the COVID-19 cases, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Nigeria is reaching a critical level where hospital capacity may no longer be able to cope cases. However, with COVID-19 vaccines, the Federal Government said it hopes to disperse the phase 1 introduction in the first quarter 2021 to its targeted cases.
The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), in a webinar theme: “Sensitisation meeting with media gatekeepers on COVID-19 vaccine introduction,” explained: “COVID-19 vaccines are being developed following the same legal requirements for quality, safety and efficacy as for all other vaccines. Like all vaccines, the effects of COVID-19 vaccines are tested first in the laboratory, including in animals and then in human volunteers.”
The vaccines are being trailed with some controversies. But experts dispelled some myths and misconceptions that COVID-19 vaccines would alter human genetic information among others. They added: “Studies are yet to be conducted to ascertain the safety of the vaccine if administered to pregnant or lactating mothers.”
Dr Bassey Okposen, Programme Manager, National Emergency Routine Immunisation Coordination Centre for NPHCDA, Abuja, said: “We want to assure all Nigerians that the vaccine is safe and effective. The vaccine will be introduced in four phases and this is due to the availability and quantity that will come in at any given time. When the vaccine arrives, there’s going to be the prioritisation of persons to be given the vaccination so as to optimise the available resources and vaccines that will be received and this will be based on global best practices.
“Nigeria plans to reach 70 per cent of the total population with COVID-19 vaccines by end of 2022. Seventy per cent of the popula-tion targeted to reduce mortality due to COVID-19 in Nigeria. Twenty per cent of the vaccine needs will be covered by the COVAX facility in 2021 with GoN cover-ing operational cost and extra vaccine needs beyond 20 per cent.”
COVID-19 vaccine and DNA
The National Orientation Agency (NOA), insisted: “There is no scientific evidence that COVID-19 vaccine will change or affect human genetic information (DNA). COVID-19 vaccines do not alter your DNA. It triggers an immune response that will protect your body against the virus if encountered. Once you and your community members are protected, the chances of the spread of the disease are reduced.
“Recovery from COVID-19 infection after treatment does not give you immunity from being infected again. Vaccine doses will protect you from contracting the virus. NPHCDA recommends that you get vaccinated even if you have already had COVID-19, because you can be infected more than once. While you may have some short-term antibody protection after recovering from COVID-19, we do not know how long this protection will last. Hence, it is recommended that that you get vaccinated because you can be re-infected.
“Immunity you will get from COVID-19 vaccination is scientifically proven to be effective. Vaccination is the best protection and it is Safe. There is no guarantee that if you get COVID-19, you will get immunity.
In fact, you may get serious illness and die or have debilitating symptoms that may persist for months. Even if you survive the disease, you may only develop short-term antibody protection after recovery from COVID-19; we do not know how long this protection lasts. Therefore, vaccination is the best protection, and it is safe.”
COVID-19 vaccine and microchip
NPHCDA then advised that claim that the COVID-19 vaccine contains a microchip be disregarded: “The National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), will certify the vaccine safe before being administered by the Federal Ministry of Health through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency.
“COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any harmful substance or micro-chip. All vaccines including COVID-19 vaccines are manufactured under strict compliance with WHO guidelines. Also, before the vaccine is administered in Nigeria. NAFDAC will test and certify it safe for human use.
“People with underlying medical conditions such as heart and lung diseases, diabetes or cancer have nothing to fear. COVID-19 infection has more impact on them, hence the need to be vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccination is especially important for people with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.
“People with these conditions are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19. It is recommended that you are vaccinated to #StaySafe from COVID-19 infection to prevent you from getting sick or dying. It is strongly recommended that you get vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccine will protect you from getting infected, sick or dying.
By getting vaccinated, you also protect your loved ones and your community.”
Standard/safety procedure compromised
NPHCDA said considering the fact that it took five to 10 years or more to develop and produce other well known, safe and efficacious childhood vaccines and others like yellow fever and polio vaccines, standards were not compromised nor were safety procedures ignored in producing COVID-19 vaccine:
“It is huge misconception to assume that the work on COVID-19 vaccine started when the pandemic began. Prior to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, scientists had experimented and perfected a fast and flexible method-plug and play-to revolutionise. No safety or standard procedures compromised in development and production of COVID-19 vaccine syringe. It is certified to be safe.”
Facemask and vaccination
It said wearing a facemask “is one of the effective Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to stop the spread of COVID-19. You are advised to continue to practice, wear your facemasks. Frequently wash your hands with soap and running water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, observe physical distancing and avoid large gathering and unnecessary travels to stop community transmission of COVID-19.
“This is because getting the vaccine does not stop you from getting exposed to someone who has been infected. But the vaccination and development of immunity will stop the infection from progressing to disease, hence you still need to practice the preventive measures.”
The NPHCDA noted, however, that prioritisation is important to optimise available resources and vaccines: “The priority target population has been identified and strategies developed, traditional or non-traditional to best reach the eligible with COVID-19 vaccines. Eligible persons being targeted for the COVID-19 vaccines are all age group. The age group for vaccination is broader compared to most other vaccines in the routine immunisation schedule. Multi-sectoral collaboration is being used to select appropriate eligible.
“Again, based on WHO guidelines, priority will be given to health workers, those on essential duties, elderly age group between the age bracket of 50 year and above and other vulnerable individuals with co-morbid conditions. Estimated 2,116,393 persons made up of health workers and other support staff (0.44 per cent of total population) and 0.56 per cent as contingency (targeting other frontline workers) were being targeted for phase 1 introduction in first quarter 2021; but only about 100,000 doses of the mRNA vaccines would be available.
“Vaccines will be delivered to the National Strategic Cold Stores, Abuja, for documentation and be stored in the Ultra Cold Chain (UCC) at the NCDC labs before distribution to the zonal cold stores in Kano, Minna, Bauchi, Lagos, Enugu and Warri. The stores will serve the states within their zones and deliver the vaccines to the state stores for administration.”
Chairman, Ministerial Ex-pert Advisory Committee on COVID-19, a virologist, Prof Oyewale To-mori, said Nigeria lacked facilities for vaccine trials: “COVID-19 vaccines expected in the coun-try would not undergo further clinical trials before being ad-ministered on Nigerians. This is as a result of the absence of the needed facilities to carry out such activities.
“Over the years, all vaccines acquired and ad-ministered in the country do not undergo further trials. The country has always depended on the approval of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and endorsements from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for vaccine usage.”