By Olakunle Olafioye
The quest for the production of locally made COVID-19 vaccine may turn out to be a mirage after all. Gbolagade Iyiola, chairman, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, Lagos, identified paucity of funds and lack of investment in drugs and vaccines research development in the nation’s research institutes as a major drawback to the development of Nigerian-made COVID-19 vaccine.
In this interview, the pharmacist and Lagos PSN boss examined why attempt to force the COVID-19 vaccine on Nigerians may not work.
He also spoke on other issues, including the factors militating against the growth of traditional medicine and rumours trailing COVID-19 vaccine in the country.
Nigerians are worried that the nation is yet to come up with a local COVID-19 vaccine. What would you say is the problem?
Drugs and Vaccines Research Development (R&D) is not a tea-party. Our country is not one that has invested in R & D in all its research institutes. The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) does not even enjoy a nine-digit subvention in naira on a monthly basis, so where will a Nigerian COVID-19 vaccine come from? There is no magic about these things because R&D for a new drug moiety or vaccine costs anything in the range of $500 million to over $1 billion, so you see what I am talking about. The Faculties of Pharmacy as well as Drug Research & Production Units are also not spared of this paucity in funding. It is the major drawback because we have pharmaceutical experts who are helplessly waiting to be fully utilised.
There seems to be a surreptitious move by the government to force COVID-19 vaccine on Nigerians. Considering the position of Edo State government and the claim that FG wants all civil servants vaccinated. Do you see this as a solution to the apathy being experienced in the administration of the vaccine in the country?
The facts remain that people can exercise freewill in any situation. Even Almighty God in His supremacy allowed us to be free moral agents. I can decide not to be vaccinated, but my right must not be allowed to bring trouble to the others, so the management style that ensures this must be perfected. The other level is government has made less than 10 million doses of vaccines available, so how do you compel a population of about 200 million people to comply with the Obaseki type of directive. For the sake of emphasis, vaccines must be made available in adequate doses for the public before you can contemplate compulsion and subsequent sanctions.
A lot of rumours have trailed the COVID-19 vaccine, including the claim that it’s meant to reduce the population of the blacks. Don’t you think the production of local COVID-19 vaccine would help to douse the fear associated with the vaccine?
If people reduce scientific values to childish or comical expositions, then you wonder what they cannot trivialise. It should be a matter of common sense that the West does not need to wait for COVID-19 vaccine to reduce the population of blacks. Nations which don’t manufacture anything, but import food, drugs, chemicals, medical devices etc are too vulnerable in all aspects and ramifications. As for producing a Nigerian vaccine, it is desirable, but it remains an illusion for reasons highlighted above. The people who orchestrated the conspiracy theory of reducing the black population with foreign vaccines will be ingenious to come up with another fallacious claim even if it is a Nigerian variety.
Nigeria is known to still produce animal vaccines while it is gathered that the last human vaccine produced in the country was in the 90s. What would you say is the problem and how can this be tackled?
I think you are still dwelling on the same question you started with. The factors are the same as earlier elucidated, paucity of fund, lack of investment in the nation’s R &D and research institutes remain a huge challenge.
What would you say are the factors militating against the development of traditional medicine in Nigeria?
The fundamental challenge is that the practitioners of native and herbal medicines refuse to subject their practice and products to scientific evaluation and validation which makes it a limiting factor to expand the frontiers for growth and development of traditional medicine practice.