..To sign MoU with local pharmaceutical firms
In steps with the United States of America’s announcement last week to support a waiver of Intellectual Property Protections on Covid-19 vaccine development, in a bid to boost the fight against the pandemic and increase access to vaccines to millions globally, the federal government has announced plan for full-scale vaccine production. The move would position the country to maximise revenue share of the $3 trillion market of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Referring to the revelation, Prince Nwafuru, an international trade lawyer at Paul Usoro & Co said Nigeria could tap into the opportunity provided by the waiver and incentives from the federal government to ramp up production that would serve not only the citizens but other nations on the continent.
“The thing about the AfCFTA is that it seeks to make the whole of Africa one nation. However, it is too early to make projections on such possibilities until the waiver is concluded. In any case, we have to meet local needs first before talking of exporting to other nations. Charity, they say, begins at home.”
“Therefore it’s a no brainer that a Covid IP waiver is important to reduce the pandemic, and the countries that would benefit the most are the ones most ready with the skill and manufacturing capacity, as nobody wants to be caught napping during the next global pandemic,” he said.
The minister of health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire said “Nigeria is exploring options for licensed production, in collaboration with recognised institutions. We are also exploring the option of local production of the vaccines in the country,” The health minister,
Ehanire also stated that the health ministry would sign a public private partnership (PPP)-MoU with a pharmaceutical company in Nigeria to set up the new company.
He said the Ministry of Finance had announced the sum of N10 billion for the production of vaccines in Nigeria, to fight the coronavirus.
The Vaccine IP waiver is an opportunity for Nigeria to achieve economic diversification and build a skilled value chain that will also address Nigeria’s youth unemployment problem. Nigeria can look at India’s pharmaceutical industry, which announced exports for the FY-21 (Apr 2020 – Mar 2021) at $24.44 billion, a record growth of 18.07 %. Exports during FY 2020 were $20.58 billion with a growth rate of 7.57%.
Nigeria will not be alone in this journey as Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal have also called for full vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa. Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, said last week that “The only way to ensure vaccine equity is to produce more vaccines where they are needed … as Africa remains dependent on other regions for vaccines, we will always be at the back of the queue whenever there is scarcity.”
One more factor to consider, for there to be competent vaccine development, Nigeria must begin to invest more in STEM-related courses at the nation’s tertiary institutions.
The director-general of the World trade Organisation, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had earlier warned about the dangers of “vaccine nationalism” which could affect the much-expected pandemic recovery, as well as decimate economic growth for all countries – rich and poor.
She added that the WTO could contribute a lot to ending the pandemic by prioritising and implementing solutions as to how the WTO could make vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics accessible in an equitable and affordable fashion to all countries, particularly to poor countries, citing dangers that the global economy may face through losing $9 trillion in potential output if poor countries were unable to get their populations vaccinated quickly. About half of this impact would be borne by rich countries.
It does not come as a surprise that Okonjo-Iweala also stated that Nigeria should start looking at establishing the capacity for manufacturing vaccines locally.
“I’ve been in the vaccine business for the last 5-6 years. You need 4-5 years to get a plant approved to produce vaccines. I’m advocating that Nigeria should start looking now at establishing capacity for manufacturing vaccines locally. This is not going to be the last pandemic,” she said in her last visit to Nigeria.
Though Nigeria has not been hit hard like other developing economies such as India and South Africa, there is still the urgent need to bring in more vaccines to cater to the country’s teeming population as she cannot afford to take chances and be visited by the kind of issue going on in India.
Since receiving the first batch of 3.9 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in March this year, Nigeria has been battling to access more supplies to cater to her 200 million population. Even with the 84 million doses of vaccines expected from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, Nigeria is yet to cover 20% of her population. “The waiver will definitely help Nigeria to develop local capacity and provide for our local needs, given the difficulty being experienced in accessing the vaccines abroad,” Nwafuru added.
In a related development, a target of vaccinating 60 per cent of the population in each country by March 2022 is likely sufficient to achieve worldwide herd immunity under a baseline scenario with limited mutation, says a World Bank report.
The report titled: “How to End the COVID-19 Pandemic by March 2022”, shows that if each country can vaccinate five per cent of its population, each month, it would end the acute phase of the pandemic by March 2022.
However, achieving this target requires addressing a procurement gap of 350 million vaccine courses in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), the report adds.
According to the report, the LMICs have a population of 6.5 billion. Of this, about three billion people live in China and India, which have domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity available to address domestic needs. The remaining population is split between 2.5 billion people in a group of 91 countries that have access to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC facility), which provides access to subsidized courses, and one billion people in other middle-income countries that are not eligible to access subsidized vaccines, under the assumption that they have the ability to pre-purchase vaccines at market prices.
To bridge the 350 million course gap in COVAX AMC-eligible countries, an additional $4 billion grant funding for COVAX AMC, in addition to the existing donor commitment of $6.3 billion would be sufficient, says the report. The additional $4 billion would allow the COVAX AMC to raise its minimum vaccine coverage to about 30 per cent of the population of these countries, it adds.
On how the author was able to arrive at this calculation, the author, Tristan Reed, said, “most COVAX AMC-eligible countries already have pre-purchased sufficient vaccines to achieve population coverage of 30 per cent or more through existing direct or regional procurement efforts like that of the African Union. Thus, providing additional donor funding to COVAX AMC may be the most effective way to achieve 60 per cent vaccine coverage and worldwide herd immunity by March 2022.”
“The gap in LMICs exists despite high-income countries already having pre-purchased vaccine courses exceeding 100 per cent of their population. High-income countries could close the 350 million course gap in COVAX AMC-eligible countries by donating in-kind their pre-purchases in excess of their population, which by our estimate are 740 million courses.
Meanwhile, the federal government has reintroduced Covid-19 restrictions across all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
This new directive, according to a member of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, Dr. Mukhtar Mohammed, is to take effect by midnight of Tuesday.
Mohammed, who is the head of technical secretariat of the PSC, made the announcement while briefing reporters on Monday in Abuja.
With the restrictions imposed, mass gatherings in public spaces have been restricted to 50 people at any given time.
Access to government institutions would also be denied to anyone not wearing a face mask while government meetings and travels have been limited to the virtual platform.
According to Mohammed, the government has directed that bars and nightclubs should remain closed and the nationwide curfew will be in force until further notice.
He added that only essential international travels would be encouraged, and all existing protocols must be strictly adhered to.
The PSC member, however, stated that there was no limitation to intra-state travel.
On his part, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, said returning foreign passengers who fled the quarantine facilities and violated the compulsory requirement would not go unpunished.
He noted that the committee has received reports that some persons who recently returned to the country violated the mandatory quarantine requirement under the advisory by escaping from the facilities.
Mustapha, who is also the PSC Chairman, condemned the violation of the nation’s laws and hospitality, noting that the committee was awaiting the report of ongoing investigations and would impose appropriate sanctions on the violators.
He revealed that the PSC has considered several pre-emptive measures to be taken to mitigate the likely impact of the variants of COVID-19, should they get imported into Nigeria.
The SGF explained that the step became important in view of the fragile state of the nation’s health systems, the disruption to the delivery of vaccines, and the lack of compliance with the extant public health measures and social measures contained in the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Health Protection Regulations 2021.
According to him, it is imperative to reinstitute the various public health measures that were put in place under the health protection regulations