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My govt 'working very hard' on local production of vaccines -- Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari says his government is 'working very hard' to ensure the local production of vaccines.

The president, however, declined to provide any details.

"We shouldn't make noise about it until we succeed," he said of the efforts his government is making.

Mr Buhari spoke in an interview with the NTA, which was aired on Thursday and monitored by PREMIUM TIMES.

With its estimated population of 206 million, Nigeria relies on imported vaccines for the prevention and treatment of diseases including polio, COVID-19, measles, and others.

COVID-19 and Vaccine

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of local vaccine production as some countries have more access to available vaccines than others.

This is partly due to overreliance on foreign donors to get vaccines.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is only one of many African countries relying on foreign donors for vaccines, including COVID-19.

This also depicts one of the many reasons African countries have the least number of persons vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

So far, more than 8.23 billion doses of the vaccines have been administered across 184 countries, according to data collected by Bloomberg.

The latest rate was roughly 36.5 million doses a day. In total, 107 doses have been given for every 100 people around the world--but the distribution has been lopsided.

Countries and regions with the highest incomes are getting vaccinated more than 10 times faster than those with the lowest.

In Nigeria, Over six million persons have received the first shot of the vaccines while over 3.5 million have received their second shot.

Health experts have repeatedly warned that African leaders must invest in local vaccine production to prevent access challenges and unequal distribution.

Vaccine production

As of 1940, Nigeria was producing its own vaccines at the Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory at Yaba in Lagos state. This was the first vaccine institute established in the country.

The institute was active for about six decades, between then and 1991, producing large quantities of vaccines against smallpox, rabies, yellow fever, for not only Nigeria but neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Central Africa, and a few others on the continent.

The vaccine production centre was, however, closed in 1991 by the government, which said it wanted to reactivate and upgrade the facility.

But three decades later, the institute is yet to commence vaccine production.

Since the closure of the Yaba laboratory in 1991, Nigeria has continued to rely majorly on imported vaccines and donations while the Yaba facility rots away.

Failed commitment

In mid-January 2021, the Nigerian government announced that it is committing N10 billion ($26,315,789) to set up a vaccine production company in Nigeria, to boost local COVID-19 vaccine production.

"The ministry of finance has released N10 billion to support domestic vaccine production," Nigerian's Health minister, Osagie Ehanire, had said at one of the briefings of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) COVID-19.

But almost a year after, nothing visible has been done regarding vaccine production in the country.

While responding to questions on the status of the fund in October, Mr Ehanire said there are plans to repurpose the fund to attract investors.

He said vaccines are not things produced and put on the shelf for people to go and buy. Hence producing vaccines is not an easy task.

"The N10 billion was intended to procure Vaccines from Nigeria but making vaccines is not easy. So, we are looking at how to repurpose that amount in order to use it to attract investors and for these investors to take us to the down streams section of vaccine production bringing in technology.

"We believe this is the faster way of going at it before we migrate upstream to producing and adding our homemade vaccine into the production system," he said.

[Source: By Nike Adebowale, Premium Times, Abuja, Nga, 06Jan22]

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