The Oasis Reporters
November 24, 2020
It is a known fact that Nigeria has abundant talents in all fields of diverse endeavors, even when infrastructure are lacking in it.
Having fought a brutal civil war in the late sixties to 1970 and with many corpses dumped and floating on rivers, it was not long before the contaminated waters became one of the sources of a cholera epidemic that ravaged the nation. Therefore people continued to die after the war in large numbers.
Despite the devastation at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, a certain Doctor Njoku led the research to quickly and promptly produce an anti cholera vaccine that turned the tide and saved lives. Dr Njoku was from the South East, the breakaway faction called Biafra.
With the Coronavirus pandemic resurgence against the backdrop of the race to produce a vaccine to fight the Coronavirus (Covid- 19) pandemic, two Nigerians of the Igbo ethnic group in the south east are now amongst the leading scientists that worked on the Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine, thereby putting Nigeria’s name on the global map, and the vaccine is 95% effective..
A couple of weeks back, President Donald Trump made the announcement that a new Covid-19 vaccine has been discovered and it has achieved about 95 percent effectiveness with zero side effects.
There was celebration around the world when the discovery was made and announced, as several scientists made efforts to come up with a vaccine.
When the announcement was made, nobody thought that an African would be part of the team that came up with the vaccine, let alone, a Nigerian. But this time, two of them from Igbo land.
Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu and Dr. Ogechika Alozie are the names of the Igbo that are listed and interviewed on ABC News. They are instrumental on the global stage in curbing this pandemic.
Due to their importance right now, they are currently under secret service protection.
Dr. Onyema Eberechukwu Ogbuagu, an Igbo man is one of the brains behind the new Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. He graduated from University of Calabar in College of Medicine in 2003. Dr. Ogbuagu is also Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine Specialist.
Had Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu stayed back to teach in a Nigerian University, he certainly would have been among those striking ASUU members who’ve not been paid since July.
It is time we begin to notice and appreciate Igbo people for their contributions and making Nigeria proud in anywhere they found themselves.
The Nigerian-born researcher, Onyema Ogbuagu
has dispelled misconceptions concerning the COVID-19 vaccine noting that there is no sinister plan in the development of the vaccine.
Ogbuagu is an Associate Professor of medicine at Yale University. He is one of those leading the research at Pfizer for a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.
Read his tweets :
Let's dispel some rumors especially because misinformation about COVID-19 may and can cost lives. Enough already!— Onyema Ogbuagu (@DrOnyemaOgbuagu) November 22, 2020
1. Vaccine efficacy results are real. They were not delayed to hurt or help any politician
2. The Pfizer vaccine doesnt contain the SARS CoV-2 virus or parts of it!
Think of how vaccines have made deadly diseases either go away (small pox) or become relatively rare (such as measles).— Onyema Ogbuagu (@DrOnyemaOgbuagu) November 22, 2020
When the "COVID" vaccine becomes available, lets roll up our sleeves and lets end this thing!
Another challenge would be equitable distribution of vaccines..
High vs. low/middle income countries, and even in developed nations, to ensure that vulnerable and underserved populations, disproportionally affected by the pandemic are proportionally reached!— Onyema Ogbuagu (@DrOnyemaOgbuagu) November 22, 2020
Now is time for strategic distribution plans at global, national and community level
Its all done now! 🙃🤓😲💫💯👌👍👏🍾🍻— Onyema Ogbuagu (@DrOnyemaOgbuagu) November 18, 2020
New Pfizer Results: Coronavirus Vaccine Is Safe and 95% Effective https://t.co/jdsmTlb71v
Meanwhile, home based Nigerian scientists have developed a Covid-19 vaccine candidate but need funding for human trials.
The race for a Covid-19 vaccine has so far been a show of vaccine nationalism as countries are securing prospective vaccines for their populations and prioritizing access for their domestic markets.
This has left Africa in a disadvantaged position as none of the vaccines being developed are in the continent and a majority of African countries lack the power or funds to secure vaccines for their citizens.
There have also been concerns that since the vaccines were developed mostly with data from non-African populations it may result in a low vaccine efficacy for Africans.
To that end, scientists in Nigeria have developed a new vaccine candidate which they say is optimized for the African population. The vaccine has undergone a successful pre-clinical trial but the human trial is being delayed due to a lack of funds, according to news report. .
Some African scientists worry vaccines developed in the West aren’t taking into account the local context of Africa.
The cost of developing a single infectious disease vaccine from preclinical trials through to end of phase 2a can easily top $100 million in the United States. Including the cumulative cost of failed vaccine candidates through the R&D process, the costs can go much higher.
The new vaccine candidate was developed by Professor Christian Happi, a molecular biologist and genomicist, with his research team at the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) in Nigeria. ACEGID is a WHO and Africa CDC Reference Laboratory for genomic research in Africa.
The ACEGID Covid-19 vaccine is said to have gone through the required preclinical trial to test the vaccine’s efficacy and toxicity on mice before testing it on humans after working with partners at Cambridge University. “We were able to identify a neutralizing antibody that could knock down up to 90% of the viruses,” says Happi.
Emphasizing the importance of the new vaccine candidate to Africa, he highlighted concerns also shared by some other African scientists that vaccines are often developed in the West without taking into account the local context of Africa only to be brought to Africa for human trials.
“The genetic makeup or the genetic diversity of the African population has been demonstrated to affect the efficacy of several vaccines that have been developed because the vaccine also depends on who is receiving it and how the body responds to it,”says Happi.
The vaccine is being built on the genome sequences of linages of SARS-Cov-2 circulating in Nigeria and other African countries.
The team says it has done human genetic studies on many African populations and applied the knowledge gained in developing the vaccine.
If fully funded, Happi said the vaccine can ready in 12 months after the start of the human trials, but he is still searching for funds to start the human trial. “we need a lot of resources so we are trying to see whether the Nigerian government can fund it but we have not received any funding from the government”, he said.
Nigeria’s policy response to the Covid-19 pandemic through its Central Bank introduced a healthcare grant of 500 million naira (about $1.3 million) limit. Happi says this amount is insufficient for vaccine production and clinical trials. “We are talking to a few people and have been able to show them the data. We want to wait but we have not heard from anybody yet.”
“This development may get some support from a few western funders, but this is not on their priority lists,” says Gerald Mboowa, a bioinformatics scientist at Makerere University in Uganda,. “Being an African led vaccine, African countries through the African Union should be mobilized to fund this endeavor.”
Despite Africa having a history of poor R&D funding, Ike Anya, co-founder of Nigeria Health Watch believe ACEGID’s vaccine will get the needed support within Africa to develop the first African vaccine. “African countries have traditionally not sufficiently funded their intellectual and scientific capabilities, but that there seems to be. a deepening awareness of why this must change.”
Nigeria is not alone in trying to ensure Africans are trialed for a working Covid-19 vaccine. In August, screening began for up to nearly 3,000 South Africans to enrol in the mid-stage study of an experimental vaccine by Novavax, a US drug developer of next-generation vaccines for serious infectious diseases, at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. The trial is backed by a $15 million grant awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Other trials are also underway in the continent’s most advanced economy.
Other vaccines from across the world have also been announced with efficacies ranging from 90-95%.
Moderna has one too. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel proudly announced another by a biotech firm in her country, owned by Turkish immigrants in Germany, showing that having first rate infrastructure and funding is of crucial importance in any R&D effort.
By Greg Abolo
Additional reporting: Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu