Vaccine fears and hope – The Nation

The rollercoaster over AstraZeneca’s power should accelerate our plan to develop our own vaccine

The news of uncertainty over the efficacy of the British-made vaccine, AstraZeneca, has focused why every country should control its own destiny in the era of Covid-19. Clearly few countries do today, and the United States and Britain rule the waves today.

This is significant as we have taken delivery of our first consignment of the vaccines and quite a few Nigerians have had their jabs. President Muhammadu Buhari as well as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo set the stage for the country. Some governors have followed suit. Education campaign is ongoing as some Nigerians have retreated from the prospect while a few, out of fear or caution, have expressed hesitancy. But it is cheering that enthusiasm so far outweighs doubts.

In the midst of the vaccination campaign came two episodes that cast gloom on AstraZeneca. The first was the speculation that it inflicted blood clots. This compelled quite a few countries like Germany, France, Italy, et al, to suspend the use until a clearer scientific enquiry gave a green light. This was in spite of the surge of infections in what is called second wave and even a third wave in some of the countries.

Science was cheery and even the World Health Organisation assured that the vaccine was harmless and its efficacy stood at 79 percent. The countries resumed their tryst with the Oxford vaccine but the United States threw another spanner in the works a few days later.

During a trial undertaken by the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) with a team of independent scientists, facts emerged that AstraZeneca did not fully disclose all it knew. The scientists asserted that the vaccine was based on outdated data. They castigated the firm for claiming that the vaccine was 79 percent effective but it was misleading. The medical community described such an accusation as highly unusual.

Anthony S. Fauci, America’s leading infectious disease expert, responds that “Any type of thing like this could unfortunately contribute to a lack of confidence in the process.” The experts said the effectiveness of the vaccine may be much lower than its vaunted 79 percent. They put it at between 69 percent and 74 percent. Those numbers were not bad, and they speak to the power of the fluid. Yet AstraZeneca was under pressure and a near-final clinical trial results now show it to be 76 percent effective. Scientists agree that the difference between 79 percent and 76 percent is insignificant. The 76 percent efficacy estimate derives from 190 Covid-19 cases as compared to 141 trial participants. But the firm had suffered what some observers described as public relations nightmare, especially as most of the world depended on it as life saver.

Such a rollercoaster fortune is not good for a crying humanity. It might even have cast doubts in the minds of Nigerians who had raised fears about it. A video clip went viral recently about some children who fled at the prospect of taking the shots. The latest news, however, that its power over the virus, including 100 percent against severe and emergency cases, gave the vaccine a shot in the arm.

“Overall it’s a win for the world,” says Ann Falsey, a vaccine scientist at the University of Rochester, New York. “The final story is the results for the final analysis are great. They look very similar to the interim analysis.”

Some countries with the capacity have not fallen into the AstraZeneca trap. They include the United States, China and Russia. India is uncertain about its own invention. Even Europe with all its advances is under Britain’s spell, and the European Union has had to parley with Boris Johnson’s country in spite of the continent’s huffing and puffing after Brexit. They all need jabs.

The United States has, at least, two home-made drugs, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson. The latter is regarded as the most potent because it delivers only one jab as against two for the others. Both enjoy efficacy estimates are higher than AstraZeneca. US President Joe Biden has radiated confidence over the capacity of his country to deliver 200 million shots in his first 100 days in office. For all his desire to help other countries, his emphasis is American citizens. For all the glories of globalization and cooperative help, it is not strange that very country is alone and lonely. The supply of AstraZeneca to Africa is believed to be stalled even though tens of millions are earmarked for the continent. The west will take care of their own first in the age of medical or vaccine nationalism.

Hence it is happy news that Nigeria is working on its own vaccines. The secretary to the federal government, Boss Mustapha said two of such trials are underway. “The vaccines will be used after completing clinical trials and obtaining certification,” said Mustapha.

“This is a welcome development that will open a new vista in scientific breakthrough and will boost the morale and image of the medical industry in the country.”

We cannot overrate what such a home-grown development will do not only for our survival but our scientific pride.

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