Local Covid-19 vaccines: AfDB’s initiative Nigerians’ applause




…FG has released N10bn to support production – Ehanire

…It‘ll address inequality in global distribution – Expert

‘…Big step in right direction’

…Manufacturers must ensure quality, safety – Varsity teacher

 …We’re already upgrading our labs to international standards – NAFDAC

The global shortfall in the number of doses of Covid-19 vaccines has created a gap between the higher-income and lower-income countries in terms of access to the highly sought-after commodity. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report examines the move by the African Development Bank (AfDB) to support local production of Covid-19 vaccines in Nigeria and other African countries.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group has disclosed that it would invest “heavily” in the domestic manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines in the African health care system. The AfDB president, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, made the disclosure at the closing of the 2021 Annual Meetings of the bank, on Friday, according to a statement by the bank on Saturday, last week.

Adesina noted that only 51 per cent of public health facilities had basic water and sanitation, while 31 per cent of health care facilities had electricity. The AfDB boss also underlined the fact that Africa still imported 60 to 70 per cent of its pharmaceutical drugs.

“The lives of 1.2 billion people in Africa are at risk. We must give hope to the poor and the vulnerable by ensuring that every African, regardless of their income level, gets access to quality health care, as well as health insurance and social protection,” he had said.

 Akinwunmi further proposed an African stability mechanism to act as a firewall against external shocks and pledged the bank’s commitment to strengthen support to African countries. The proposal included that the bank acts as a conduit for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) special drawing rights, which it would then on-lend to African countries.

 He said the support would be towards tackling the economic and health impacts of the pandemic.

FG toes same path

Likewise, President Muhammadu Buhari recently promised that Nigeria would continue to partner with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other countries to ensure accelerated development and manufacturing as well as unhindered supply of safe and effective coronavirus vaccines to all Africans.

President Buhari made the promise recently in his remarks while participating in the virtual 34th ordinary session of the African Union from the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Commitment

As part of efforts to accelerate local production of the vaccine, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said the Ministry of Finance had released N10 billion to support the production in the country. He stated this at the Presidential Task Force (PTF) Covid-19 briefing recently in Abuja.

“The Ministry of Finance has released N10 billion to support domestic vaccine production. While we are working to develop our own vaccines, 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,” he said.

NAFDAC’s disclosures

 Also, the director-general of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said the country would start manufacturing vaccines soon while adhering to required global standards.

 She said, “With regards to the establishment of the World Health Organization’s global benchmarking and adoption of international best practices, we want to get to maturity level three so that Nigeria can manufacture its vaccines.

“We are upgrading the agency’s laboratories to international standards using equipment that are compliant to ISO 17025. NAFDAC laboratories are changing very rapidly with improvements in new equipment and supplies.”

According to the NAFDAC boss, Nigeria aims to manufacture 70 per cent of the pharmaceuticals locally to cut down her dependence on imports.

Good news

Speaking with this reporter, a medical doctor at the Federal Medical Centre Keffi, Dr. Isa Jatau, said local manufacturing will address the inequality in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines being experienced by developing countries like Nigeria.

He said, “We have experienced great frustration regarding the global vaccine supply. Not only have there been huge challenges with respect to vaccine manufacturers producing enough vaccines for the world, but there has been great inequality in terms of distribution.

“Most countries of the world have received a few, and in some cases, no vaccines. This is a problem that needs to be solved urgently and local manufacturing of vaccines in Nigeria and other Africa countries is the most reliable way of addressing the shortfall in vaccine accessibility by poor and vulnerable countries.”

 Nigeria’s vaccine production history

In his view, molecular biologists in the department of microbiology at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Dr. Ishaku Masang, said while Nigeria has over the years produced vaccines for the livestock industry for the local market and for exports to West Africa countries, human vaccine production is non-existent.

He said, “Well, it’s a mixture of what I will call the good and the bad. I will start with the good. What Nigeria has up and running is an animal vaccine production laboratory. The National Veterinary Research Institute in Vom, Plateau state, produces vaccines for the livestock industry. It makes a number of vaccines for the local market and for export to other countries in the West African sub-region. It produces viral and bacterial vaccines against several diseases of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens.

“The bad side to the story is that, to my knowledge, human vaccine production is non-existent in Nigeria at the moment. The last time any human vaccine was produced at the Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory was in 1991.

“There have been recent attempts to resuscitate that facility. The immediate past Minister of Health made some efforts three years ago to revive it. Unfortunately, that effort did not yield the desired results. Nigeria has virologists, molecular biologists and experts in genomics of infectious diseases who are making attempts at local vaccine production, but these are individual efforts using grant funding which cannot sustain such an enterprise.”

An expert’s take

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a professor of virology, Daniel Oladimeji Oluwayelu, described the move for local manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines as “a step in the right direction.”

 He however, said for it to happen, Nigeria must invest in health infrastructure and human development.

 “I think the move to initiate local vaccine production is a step in the right direction, but the investment has to be sufficient because the sector has been neglected for many years. The reason is that Nigeria does not have a functional vaccine production facility in place. The only laboratory for human vaccine production is at Yaba, Lagos, but it has not been functional for many years now. It will need a lot of money to revamp it and increase its production capacity.

“It will also need to be staffed with people who have the requisite expertise and experience in modern technologies for production of safer and more efficacious vaccines such as recombinant DNA technology. So, in addition to the African Development Bank (AfDB) and federal government N10 billion funds, there is a lot more that the government would have to do to get local vaccine production going,” he said.

Similarly, a pharmacist at Federal Medical Centre Jabi, Abuja, told our reporter that the AfDB initiative would boost local pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity in Africa.

“In the face of this global shortfall, calls to scale up vaccine production capacity in Africa are growing louder. While not a panacea for filling the Covid-19 vaccine production gap in the immediate term, bolstering capacity in Africa to conduct key aspects of the manufacturing process, namely, formulation, filling, and packaging for Covid-19 vaccines will help facilitate access.

“Developing the fledgling industry will also help countries prepare for greater self-sufficiency in meeting their growing vaccine needs and prevent future vaccine access crises when the next pandemic hits,” he said.

He added that, “In recent years, a concerted effort to build up local pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity in Africa has begun to pay dividends, paving the way for the nascent vaccine industry. Manufacturers in Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt, and elsewhere are becoming major producers of priority medicines for their countries and regions.

“A concerted decades-long effort by the United States Agency for International Development and others to bolster the quality assurance systems of pharmaceutical manufacturers in LMICs toward achieving international quality standards has made many products more competitive.

“Although 70%-90% of pharmaceuticals used in Africa are still imported, local manufacturing sectors are poised with latent capacity, and bolstering local production is being urgently prioritised in the face of Covid-19 related shortages.”

Quality

However, Prof. Oluwayelu said for Nigeria to succeed in the laudable initiative, the government, manufacturers of vaccines and stakeholders must ensure that Nigeria produces a vaccine that can compete favourably in the world in order to earn the trust of consumers.

“Access to poor-quality vaccines is worse than no access. The goal of local manufacturing must be to ensure quality, protect patients, and foster trust in vaccine safety.

“Therefore, quality assurance is an essential ingredient to make vaccine production sustainable. Very few national regulatory authorities in Africa have achieved the level of maturity required to enable the production of quality-assured vaccines in their countries. However, there are measures regulators can take to expedite access to Covid-19 vaccines.

“Additionally, efforts to pool expertise and streamline regulatory oversight of vaccines on the continent are moving forward through the African Vaccine Regulatory Forum. For their part, local vaccine manufacturers should work with partners like Africa Centre for Disease Control, the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network, the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, and the Federation of African Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations to strengthen their quality management systems toward attaining international standards.”

Collaborations

He also called for partnership and collaboration among vaccine manufacturers, urging them to share experience and avoid rivalry if they must succeed.  

“Beyond the complexity of the vaccine manufacturing process itself, the prerequisite supplies, equipment, facilities, and highly specialized scientific expertise needed to make quality-assured vaccines is beyond the purview of any one company. For example, sourcing inactive ingredients, vials, and stoppers can be limiting factors.

“Simultaneously, like any other business, vaccine manufacturers in Africa must be able to make a return on investment while competing with established manufacturers in countries like India, China, Indonesia, and Pakistan. Important factors include sufficient demand in the country or region, government investment policies and incentives, cost of labor and capital, availability of raw materials, and physical infrastructure.

“Each of these individual barriers can be overcome, but taken as a whole, expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa requires cohesive national and regional strategies that align with national pharmaceutical and industrial policies while addressing areas of weakness and laying out incentives to attract investment.

“For instance, a regional strategy for manufacturing active pharmaceutical ingredients could help support this nascent industry while avoiding fragmentation and redundancies. In addition, international procurement agencies could support sustainable access to vaccines and other health products in Africa by carving out a portion of global procurements for African manufacturers producing quality-assured health co-investing now in strengthening vaccine production capacity on the continent will set countries up for success as they prepare to graduate from receiving foreign assistance.”

Adequate funding required

Also, Dr. Jatau called for increased funding to support local production of vaccines through annual budgetary allocations.

“I think sustainable funding remains the main public policy intervention for revamping Nigeria’s vaccine production capacity. There should be annual budgetary allocations to that sector; the government must see this as a priority.

“We cannot afford to pay lip service to it, otherwise we will be caught napping, as we are experiencing with this Covid-19 outbreak. Apart from funding, I think the government should also work with universities by harnessing the knowledge and expertise of researchers working in relevant fields.”