The Chair of Africa COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative and Chief Executive Officer of Innovative Biotech USA and Nigeria, Simon Agwale, on Monday stressed that Nigeria presently lacks the capacity to develop and produce COVID-19 vaccines.
According to Agwale, the necessary infrastructure needed for the arduous standardised processes are lacking in the country.
Last week, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, announced that Nigerian scientists have produced at least two local covid-19 vaccines, which are awaiting clinical trials and certification.
Explaining that if the government was serious about developing a vaccine, it should get the private sector involved, Agwale stated that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) can work with the CACOVID to develop some platform/initiative to kick-start the process.
He urged the Federal Government to prioritise the vaccination of only two million eligible Nigerians with the four million vaccines it currently has. He explained that since there is doubt as to when it would get another batch of the vaccines, it should only vaccinate two million citizens so that they are sure of getting their second shot of the vaccine.
Speaking on Channels Television, Agwale said: “When the announcement was made, they did not publish the names and institutions where these things were made. Vaccine development manufacturing is not rocket science, but it is not a trivial issue. Currently, I can tell you with all confidence that there is no capacity right now in the country to develop and produce vaccines. These are not things that you just wake up overnight and you want to do.
“We have to be careful about the kind of information that we send because we become a laughing stock globally. When you say vaccines are developed in Nigeria, the world knows how vaccines are developed, and the infrastructure you need to develop vaccines. I am in the U.S. developing vaccines because there is no capacity in country to do that.
“To develop a vaccine, the first is you have to have a standard tissue culture laboratory with 24-hour power. When you make the vaccine, you have to test it in animals. This animal facility has to be according to what we call good laboratory practices.
“There is no single animal facility in Nigeria that is operating according to good laboratory practices. When you finish your animal studies, you have to produce the initial dose for human trials, and that has to be done according to good manufacturing practices. There is no single factory in Nigeria that is producing vaccines according to good manufacturing practices.
“Before you even manufacture that, you have to talk about doing clinical trials under good clinical practices, there is no platform in the country now that does clinical trials according to good clinical practices.
“It can be done by discussing how we can make this happen. We have the Nigeria Institute for Medical Research, the Medical Institute for Pharmaceutical Research, and some universities. This can be done, but currently none of these exists. Right now, we cannot make a vaccine in Nigeria and say the world should accept it. This cannot be done. That is why I say bring international vaccine manufacturing expertise in Nigeria.
“Whatever you produce in Nigeria is not only for Nigerians, but is going to be used throughout Africa and the world. You have to abide by all the necessary standards that are in place.”
He added: “In vaccine production, the private sector has to take the lead. If you look at the companies producing COVID-19 vaccines, they are all private initiatives, but the government has to produce the enabling environment for this to be achieve
“For you to set up an end-to-end facility to produce between 200 to 400 million vaccines per annum, you are talking about $50 to $60 million to make that happen. This is just a drop in the ocean based on the impact of COVID-19. The CACOVID and CBN can create an initiative or platform or soft funding arrangement, which is done globally.
“The reason we have covid-19 vaccines created in a record time of less than one year, is because there were serious government interventions, willing to give companies grants and advancing other interventions to make sure that these vaccines are made.
“This is what I expect from the Nigerian Government. African vaccine Initiative is the place to go. They tell you who is doing what on the continent. Also, the Nigerian Government needs to engage with the right partners in the country and bring them on board. You need to go out of your way to make this happen. You can’t sit down and expect a miracle to happen. If that is the case, we wouldn’t have had covid-19 vaccines today.