NIGERIANS, including medical experts, have expressed concerns over the federal government’s insistence on going ahead with the administration of AstraZeneca vaccine even when it is being suspended by countries on safety fears.
As of March 13, 2021, about eight European countries – Norway, Iceland, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Italy, and Latvia – as well as Thailand, an Asian country, had suspended use of the vaccine as a precaution following reports of death and illness among recipients.
The death of a recipient of the vaccine was reported in Austria, which was among the first countries to halt the use of the vaccine. In rapid succession, other countries followed suit, pointing to instances of blood clot potentially linked to batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently being administered on Nigerians after 3.94 million doses of the drug, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), arrived in Nigeria on March 2, 2021. The Nigerian government acquired the vaccine through the COVAX Facility, a partnership between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation.
Despite the suspension of the vaccine in some countries as a result of severe side effects which have led to fatalities, the Nigerian government, on March 12, insisted on going ahead with the use of the vaccine in the country.
A statement released by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), on behalf of the federal government, said the doses of the drug received by Nigeria were not part of ABV5300, a specific batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine suspected to be linked to the alleged adverse side effects.
The federal government, in the statement, stressed that, so far, all side effects reported by Nigerians who had been administered with the vaccine were mild. The government urged Nigerians who were among those being prioritised in the current phase of the vaccination to continue receiving the vaccine.
- Vaccine will fail, FG should discontinue vaccination… Virologist
But a virologist, Bola Oyefolu, a professor of virology at the Lagos State University (LASU), in an interview with The ICIR, warned against continuing with the AstraZeneca vaccine in the country.
Oyefolu stressed that AstraZeneca and other vaccines that were developed for COVID-19 disease would fail because they were produced without adequate information and knowledge about the virus responsible for the disease.
“The thing is that any pathogen at all, not just this particular coronavirus, that we do not have enough research on and you have just a little information, and based on that you develop a vaccine, that vaccine will surely fail, either now or in the future. My position is we are yet to have enough information about the virus and we are developing a vaccine, surely it will fail. Now we are having different variants (of the virus) and as long as we have different variants, that vaccine will fail.
“If you look at the World Health Organisation (WHO) video clip on Frequently Asked Questions about the vaccine, you will find out that it is not wise at all to say you want to take the vaccine. The answer to everything is ‘likely’ and ‘maybe.’ I wonder why the Nigerian government insists on the vaccine,” Oyefolu said.
The virologist further told The ICIR that the federal government would not continue to give the vaccine to Nigerians if it loved its citizens.
He said, “If all facts are on the table, and if the government loves the citizens, and you know that several other countries are rescinding the decision to take the vaccine, if the government is sincere and loves the people and also knows that the economy of the country depends on the health of the people, I think the government should rescind that decision to administer the vaccine on Nigerians. They should not allow it.
“If you kill all your people or you make your people diseased, I do not know the country we are going to be in.”
Oyefolu advised the federal government to return the remaining doses of the vaccine sent to Nigeria and seek a refund of the money spent to purchase it.
“As for me, the Nigerian government should not go ahead with the vaccine. They should find a way of returning it, maybe by losing some percentage of the money paid instead of giving it to people and killing people,” the virologist told The ICIR.
- FG advised to monitor those who have received the vaccine for adverse reactions
Another virologist, Sunday Omilabu, also a professor of virology, suggested that the federal government should monitor all those who had received the vaccine so as to detect any possible adverse reactions.
Omilabu told The ICIR in an interview that the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be suspended in Nigeria with ‘good reason.’
“Those countries that suspended the vaccine have good reasons for the suspension, so we should also have a good reason if we want to suspend the usage of vaccine. Almost all the countries of the world, including the developed countries, are using the AstraZeneca and only a few countries are suspending its use because of certain reactions some individuals developed. We should also look out for individuals with very strange reactions. If we do not have people with such reactions, then we do not need to suspend it. But we need to monitor those who have taken the vaccine because it might depend on individuals. Most people will take it and will not react badly – just mild reactions which are normal but some individuals might react differently. So we need to be on the look-out for those with strange reactions among those who have received the vaccine,” he recommended.
The virologist, however, observed that, so far, there had been no cause for alarm in Nigeria as none of the people who received the vaccine had reported any strange reaction.
When contacted by The ICIR, president of the Nigerian Medical Association, Innocent Ujah, a professor of medicine, said the Nigerian government should get full information concerning the side effects of the vaccine.
“I do not have full information (about the side effects). I need to study why those countries are stopping the vaccine. We need to know the side effects and have full information on the situation,” the NMA president said in an interview with The ICIR.
Another medical doctor, Chidi Esike, chairman of the NMA chapter in Ebonyi State, told The ICIR that the Nigerian government should investigate the reported side effects.
Noting that Nigeria should continue with AstraZeneca vaccine if it had been validated by relevant authorities, Esike noted that the reported side effects, over which the drug was suspended in some countries, might be linked to different batches of the product, as suggested by the Nigerian government.
But the medical doctor also advised that the COVID-19 vaccination exercise should be monitored in order to identify possible issues.
“The side effects might be due to different batches of the vaccines. They might not be consistent so I think we should go ahead with the vaccine if our people have validated it so that if we have any issues we will know the type of issues we have. If we do not have, we will continue with it. We should not stop because of what happened in other places as there are batch differences and other factors. What happened in other countries might not happen in our own case.
“We have not heard any such report (of severe side effects) from the United States, which is the largest consumer, given that it is the same vaccine that is being given to Nigerians. Britain has not reported anything. So those side effects can be anecdotal cases and need to be investigated.”
Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association chapter in Imo State, Chidiebere Okwara, when contacted by The ICIR, said he would not comment on the matter since the federal government had already gone ahead to issue an official statement.
*Nigerians on Twitter doubt FG’s assurance on vaccine safety
Meanwhile, some Nigerians, who reacted to the statement issued by the federal government, through NPHCDA, reassuring citizens of safety of the vaccine, have expressed doubts over the government’s claim that the drug was safe.
The statement was posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmed, a media aide to President Muhammadu Buhari. Reacting to the statement, a Twitter user, New Nigeria, with the handle @NewNig48, expressed concerns that the side effects might not manifest immediately. He tweeted, “Why don’t we suspend the administration of the vaccine for now? Those who are complaining did not get the vaccine yesterday. Side effects may take a longer time to show up. Please suspend its administration until cleared.”
Nnamdi, @iamNikeAce, stressed, “Even before this new development, I have said to myself to not take any vaccines. A lot of controversies behind this pandemic and vaccines.”
Also, P. C. Erudite, with the Twitter handle, @chimepat, tweeted, “Thank God that men at the helm of Nigeria’s affairs have already taken it.”
In the same vein, Micah Ugalah, @UgalaMicah, said, “So, I don’t just trust their sudden interest to save our lives. A Nigerian was part of the team that came up with one of the vaccine. Why can’t we encourage our own people to give us what will be peculiar to us. I don’t also trust this COVID-19 enterprise at all.”
Another Twitter user, NnanyiMoe, observed, said: “But this (FG statement on safety of vaccine) would have been better believed if it had been addressed in a live broadcast by the President. Our leaders must learn to interact with those they lead. Very important.”
Still reacting to the statement, Uncle Goody Goody told the Nigerian government, “Your assessment isn’t in line with Spain and the UK, you just depend on them for information and work with their conclusions. Don’t tweet like you are doing any special work to protect Nigerians.”
Ola Williams PhD observed, “The most painful part of this whole scenario is making me lose trust in NAFDAC who said they have certified this vaccine and did so in less than 24 hours. That was when I knew there is a foul play. There are levels to this thing.”
And, in a tweet that captured the seeming prevailing mood among ‘ordinary’ Nigerians, another Twitter user, Ntare, @Obatala, noted, “Our leaders thinking they will take vaccine and carry shoulder for us. Good thing they are the Guinea pigs this time.”
- Twitter reactions suggest high level of vaccine hesitancy in Nigeria
The tone of the reactions trailing the statement issued by the federal government to assure Nigerians of the safety of the vaccine suggests that there might be a high level of ‘vaccine hesitancy’ in Nigeria, a phenomenon that has been observed in developed countries, including the United States.
Vaccine hesitancy is an unwillingness to accept the COVID-19 vaccine, which can be caused due to one of, or a combination of scepticism, misinformation and political polarisation.
A recent study conducted by Texas A&M University found that vaccine hesitancy posed a big threat to the actualisation of plans by the US government to vaccinate between 70 to 90 percent of the population in order to achieve herd immunity in the country. About 31 percent of 5,009 Americans surveyed in the study (before the vaccine was developed) said they did not plan to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available to them.
*WHO says no reason to stop using AstraZeneca vaccine
Reacting to the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine by some countries, the WHO said no link had been established between the drug and blood clot.
Margaret Harris, WHO spokesperson, said on March 12, 2021, “We have reviewed the data on deaths. There has been no death, to date, proven to have been caused by vaccination. We should continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine.”