Dr Chizoba Wonodi , a Public Health Physician and Researcher, says the coronavirus vaccine is the panacea to end the pandemic.
Wonodi, who is also the Nigeria Country Director for the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. According to her, vaccines are the best options to end the pandemic, reduce deaths, restore normalcy to life and get the country back to rebuilding its economy.
“If all countries get enough people vaccinated in 2021, we can look towards a 2022 that looks more like life as we knew it,” she added.
On vaccine safety, the expert said that before any vaccine is introduced for general use, it undergoes five stages of rigorous trials to make sure it is safe and effective.
“It is then certified safe and effective by experts at the World Health Organisation (WHO) and granted Emergency Use Authorisation or Prequalitifcation.
“So far, the WHO has granted authorisation for three COVID-19 vaccines. Eleven more vaccine candidates have applied or are currently being considered for authorisation, and should know their status in the coming weeks or months.
“All the vaccines that have reported safety data are generally well tolerated, with mild reactions like injection site pain.
“ Others systemic mild reactions include slight fatigue or headaches. These are all common reactions showing the vaccines are inducing an immune response,” she said.
She added that the efficacy of the vaccines that have reported clinical trials results ranged from 95 per cent to 50 per cent.
“Since the vaccines have been deployed in many countries such as Isreal and the U.S., the number of COVID-19 cases has begun to decline sharply, showing the value of vaccination,” she explained.
Wonodi assured that the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) had put in place a comprehensive plan to roll out the COVID-19 vaccines in the Nigeria.
“These include coordinating a multi-sectoral partnership, getting regulatory approvals from NAFDAC, ensuring sufficient cold chain capacity.
“Putting in place appropriate service delivery strategies and micro-planning for all priority groups, forecasting and securing adequate doses, demand generation and communication activities to counteract rumors and conspiracy theories about the vaccines.
“Disease surveillance and pharmacovigilance for adverse events following vaccination have been put in place. Data systems and registries have been developed.
“Overall, it is critical to invest in Nigeria’s epidemic preparedness infrastructure,” she advised.
She allayed concerns that COVID-19 vaccines were developed in a short space of time, compared to other vaccines.
She explained that the vaccine development benefited from years of prior research on new vaccine platforms, including the Messenger RNA (mRNA) platform, advances in genomic sequencing, and massive investment in upstream vaccine Reseatch and Development by relevant organisations.
“Programmes like the U.S. government’s defense.gov/Explore/Spotli… made investments “at-risk” to commence manufacturing while clinical trials were going on, so this parallel process, which had never been done before, saved several months.
“No other vaccine in history has had the concentration of scientific and funding effort that the COVID-19 vaccine had.
“ This is a testament to the importance of vaccines in ending the pandemic. The unprecedented pace of vaccine development, trial, and deployment is indeed a triumph of science,” she said.
According to her, this triumph will, however, be dampened if vaccine nationalism stifles access to the vaccines to reduce all countries, regardless of ability to pay.
She, however, called on all high-income countries to support the COVAX facility.
“ The COVAX facility should be supported with funds and doses to ensure all countries can vaccinate their most exposed and most vulnerable populations at the same time.
“My 25-year-old son in the US, should not be vaccinated before my 75-year-old mother living in Nigeria,” she said.
Wonodi said that Nigerians could support the COVID-19 response by joining hands with the government to beat the virus.
“First, we must continue to follow public health guidance: always wear masks, wash hands, keep distance and avoid crowds.
“We must take responsibility to curtail the spread of rumours and conspiracy theories.
“Sharing posts that misinform helps to spread false damaging information, this should concern you, even if you are not the author. We all should support the COVID-19 vaccination because vaccines work and they are our best bet to get out of this pandemic,” she explained.
She advised Nigerians to visit the NPHCDC and the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) websites as trusted sources for the right and most recent information on COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-19 control.
“A little encouragement goes a long way. Drop positive comments on their social media handles and share any concerns you have with them,” she added.
NAN reports that COVID-19 vaccines have been approved and administered in 75 countries, with Nigeria planning to introduce it in March 2021