…Says it doesn’t guarantee total immunity
By Chris Onuoha
Dr Olorunimbe Mamora, Minister of State for Health, in this interview, warns: Don’t be loose as ongoing vaccination does not give you total immunity against Covid-19 infection. Mamora also speaks on other health issues in the polity.
After one year, what would your assessment be on the way the Covid-19 issue is handled in this country?
While I would like to say is not commensurate with those who lost their lives as a result of the Covid-19 virus, I may also say there has been resilience of healthcare workers on the frontline. Having said that, I would also say that the first thing the Federal Government did was to set up the Covid-19 Task Force Team to manage the pandemic and other activities that were created and control the resources and logistics.
We are also connected with the international body concerned and so many others to share experiences and gain more knowledge about the virus. We equally created bodies like the NCDC, NPHDA, Cacovid and others that collaborated and assisted. Most of these things we are able to put in place to get where we are at this point in time.
From the result we have, does it suggest that we have a lot of room for improvement?
The longer the virus gets into the system, the more it mutates. If it continues to have mutation one way or the other, then the important thing is for us to be alert and continue to encourage our people to keep to the rules like the use of masks, do constant hand washing and adhere to sanitizer usage. The tendency for people to think that when they taken the vaccination, they don’t need to worry again is wrong. These things have to go hand in hand.
Protocols and vaccine
So we have to alert and be prepared. You will recall that when we had the first wave, the figures went up but with all the measures we took, the people thought corona was over. Now the second wave came like a thief in the night. We have to be expectant and watch out, very careful and keep to the advice of government. We should not take anything for granted. We have to be ready at all times.
The question around now is which type of the vaccines is coming around?
All the vaccines supplied anywhere in the world at this time are classified under emergency use authorization and approved by respective countries’ regulatory bodies and we have NAFDAC here. Even in using the vaccines, it is believed that they will only have some level of protection for the people. Manufacturers have insisted that each country using the vaccines will have to sign what we call indemnity. The vaccines that are approved for us to use here in Nigeria is AstraZeneca. That is not to say that the kind of vaccines provided for use is not approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and endorsed by the local regulatory body, NAFDAC.
The concern here is that there is a difference between AstraZeneca that has gone through phase three trial in the UK and Nigeria where there is no trial published.
What is important is that what we are receiving is AstraZeneca and possibly the Johnson and Johnson (J & J) brand. The other vaccine (J and J) is not the one sent to us, so I cannot say anything about that but about what is given to our people at this point in time.
Are we expecting any vaccine from India?
If we have a vaccine from India, it will be a vaccine licensed. AstraZeneca has been licensed to be produced in India by the institution called the Serum Institute. Maybe we can have a patent and produce here. But it is still under license and it is AstraZeneca to the best of my knowledge.
If we should have another vaccine from another country, will Nigerians be in the know?
Definitely, our projection is that we will be receiving 40 percent of our vaccine requirement in 2021 and 30 percent in 2022. That will give us 70 percent. That will afford us the opportunity to reach what we call hard limits. So, we will be having mixed vaccines that have been listed by WHO and approved by NAFDAC. Another thing is to ensure that there is reasonable degree of efficacy and safety. These are the critical things which NAFDAC have to look at. The important thing is that any vaccine that comes to Nigeria is approved and safe for use.
In terms of administration, how will the vaccines arriving now be administered?
We will continue to have information because some people suggest that one dose is better than two. But for now, the vaccine that has one dose administration is J and J. If I have my way, I will suggest that the one that has single dose administration is better. For me, it is convenient and the cost implication is better. J and J is the only one recommended as single administration. Pfizer and others are two-dose vaccinations. But like I said, information indicates that single dose of AstraZeneca may just be enough for now although we may have to wait for what the consensus of opinion will be at the end of the day. We are looking at data and science to prove that this method is workable.
How many doses do people have to take to get rid of this virus?
For now we are expecting AstraZeneca and J and J. It will be two doses of AstraZeneca with an interval of one month from the first dose. If you are to receive the J and J vaccine, it will be single dose.
In terms of administering the vaccines, what is the framework, looking at the safety of health workers and acquisition of the vaccines? Meanwhile many other countries with less infection rate like Ghana got it before us, why?
Based on knowledge, the bodies, especially Covax, that are sending the vaccines to us have their protocols to follow in terms of distribution. We also have to look at population size. Some of the countries in Africa that have received the vaccines before us are smaller in size. Nigeria is a huge country. We also have to look at the deaths recorded; all these are considered within parameters. What is important is that we have got our own vaccines. I can assure you that the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency which is the body taking care of this whole issue has been there in the business. They have the experience and they have done a lot to reassure Nigerians that they are ready to carry on. The major concern initially was the facility for storage which they have. If we lag behind, we have to adjust. For now, there is nothing special in terms of administration and managing the vaccines.
Now, who will be getting this vaccine first?
The first will be the healthcare workers because they are facing the battle heavily. Second, the elderly that is above 65 and others with diabetes and high blood pressure. Others are those in the strategic leadership of the country and people at the point of entry at the border posts of the country.
When you mentioned strategic leadership, are you talking about the Presidency?
Yes, you are right because we want to protect the strategic leadership of the country. They are Mr. President, the governors and some top government officials.
Will it be done in the public?
Why not! We have to let people know that this vaccine is safe. That is why we would do it in the open and to give confidence to the people.
There is this argument about Nigerians in other parts of the world who are already vaccinated. Will they be required to come in with certificate of vaccination?
Well, the protocols are there already. They need to show evidence of having taken any of the PCR tests within the estimated time limit, say about 72 hours, and observe the 7 days isolation and other protocols. Having been vaccinated does not, I repeat, absolutely does not mean, you cannot get the infection! What is important is that having been vaccinated, you are unlikely to succumb to infection. The fact that you have been vaccinated is not a license to let yourself loose. The things we have set as rules will still be in place. Nobody should be under any illusion that for the fact we have taken vaccines, we are free. We have to make it clear here.
Does it mean 70 percent is absolute protection from the virus in the country?
The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency has the template, data and figures where people can find out how the exercise is done. The Executive Director has details of that.
Talking about local interventions, what is the position of the Ministry of Health?
We are doing the best we can in the circumstance. The National Pharmaceutical Research and Development is doing a lot but, again, the key factor is funding. They have the capacity to do a lot of things but funding is the issue here. When I visited the facilities, I saw about three products that are viable and waiting for funding to take them to final production. We also have about three research companies that have developed vaccines but funding is hampering the progress which they need to contend with. These things require a lot of technology and infrastructure which we don’t have on ground now. Efforts are being made to ensure that their effort comes to fruition.