A Nigerian-born epidemiologist and population health scientist at the Harvard University, Cambridge, Dr. Ibraheem Abioye, says despite the relatively low mortality from the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, the country still needs a robust vaccination plan.
This is even as the World Health Organisation said nearly one billion doses of leading vaccine candidates had been secured as part of the COVAX programme to provide vaccines for low- and middle-income countries.
COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.
Since the creation of the ACT Accelerator in April, WHO has fast-tracked the discovery of new and effective vaccines and rapid diagnostics but many countries still lack access to these critical tools.
The Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said while high-income countries are now starting to roll out vaccines, those in low-income countries can only watch and hope.
“There is the real prospect that we will not be able to start vaccinations in low-income countries in January, even as many people in Europe, North America and elsewhere are protected.
“Equitable access is also threatened by a lack of in-country planning and capacity.
“Let me be blunt: this is the moment of truth: Without urgent financial and political action, the ACT Accelerator is at risk of failing to fulfil its potential,” Ghebreyesus said.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, Dr. Abioye said health policy makers must work out modalities to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccine.
He said “Nigeria certainly needs a robust vaccination plan.
“There are two potential endings to the epidemic – herd immunity or mass vaccination. Health policy-makers need to answer the question of whether Nigeria indeed needs vaccines given the relatively low mortality from the disease, despite the poor adherence to public health measures such as masks and social distancing.
“This is an important first question, and I’m not seeing sufficient effort to answer it,” he said.
He noted that the Astra-Zeneca/Oxford vaccine could be cheaper if patent concerns are relaxed or if the manufacturers produce cheaper brands at cost dedicated to emerging markets.
He said, “There has been progress with vaccine development, and there are numerous other vaccines in development. The cheapest that we know of at the moment is Astra-Zeneca/Oxford vaccine, and it costs $3 per dose.
“It could be considerably cheaper if patent concerns are relaxed or if the manufacturers produce far cheaper brands at cost dedicated to emerging markets like ours.
“COVAX is aiming for 20 percent vaccination but that is far from enough. We need greater engagement with the pharmaceutical industry on this effort.”
Meanwhile, an editorial on The Lancet said despite the diversity of the pandemic in Africa, and the fact that many countries appear to have been spared the human calamity that has afflicted so many nations elsewhere, the continent still needs a vaccination plan.
“COVID-19 is a global health emergency that demands a global solution. No community is safe from syndrome coronavirus 2 unless all communities are protected. Further national lockdowns to drive down the prevalence of the virus will not provide a permanent answer to the epidemic threat.
“With tens of millions of Africans plunged into extreme poverty by COVID-19, further mandates to shut down economies will precipitate humanitarian and health crises.
“COVAX, the Gavi-led financing mechanism to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low-income and middle-income countries, plans to have 2 billion doses of vaccine available by the end of 2021. 97 high-income countries have now signed up to the initiative and 92 LMICs—including most African countries—will be supported by the plan.
“COVAX aims to secure enough doses of any vaccine to provide protection to an initial 20 percent of people in signatory countries. That level of coverage may help with the immediate aim of protecting the most at risk, but it is insufficient to achieve herd immunity.
“For a virus whose R0 is 2·5, around 60 percent of the population would need to be vaccinated to extinguish community transmission. And that figure assumes a perfect vaccine. For a vaccine with an efficacy of 90 percent, the proportion of the population to be vaccinated rises to 67 percent.
“If a vaccine with an even lower efficacy is used, the proportion will rise still further. The University of Oxford–AstraZeneca partnership has pledged to supply COVAX with “hundreds of millions of doses” of their vaccine, which—importantly for African countries—needs only the standard 2–8°C cold chain,” the editorial reads in part.
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