BY Ademola Yaya
BETWEEN February 1918 and April 1920, there was a flu/pandemic known as Spanish flu which ravaged the world by affecting 500 million people, which was about one-third of the world population and which killed 50 millions. It was one of the deadliest viruses in human history, caused by the H1N1 Influenza A Virus. Interestingly, there was nothing Spanish about the virus. It was tagged the name simply because Spain was neutral when the virus broke out during the First World War (1WW) and unlike belligerent countries which were suppressing the reports of the virus to forestall mass panic that could affect the psyche of their military, Spain did report it as it was and till date, there is no conclusive research to locate with certainty the origin of the flu.
In November 2019, Coronavirus infection was discovered in Wuhan, an emerging business hub in China, but the original source of viral transmission to humans remains unclear as there are claims by researchers that it could have been introduced by visitors to the Huanan Seafood Market as some of the earliest known infected people were workers in that market. Thus, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
The Coronavirus, tagged COVID-19 has ravaged the world, killing 2,542,827 people as at 28th February, 2021. Before the advent of COVID-19, there had been outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002 at Guagdong in China, caused by SARS-CoV. In 2009, there was Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-Cov), caused by H5N1 influenza A. The interesting fact, however, is that human efforts in research, science and technology have yielded good fruits in inventing vaccines to the deadly virus. The technology with which the vaccine is based is mRNA which Moderna, a small biotechnology company that has never brought a drug to the market had been working on for years and Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant has partnered with a small German biotechnology company – BioNTech for its mRNA research. The challenge of the vaccine is the cold chain storage. For instance, while the Moderna vaccine could be kept in normal freezer temperature like the ones we use at home for a month, Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept in specialised freezer at 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
Before delving into challenges this pose to most African countries and Nigeria in particular with poor, irregular electricity supply, it is important to allay some fears allegedly raised in some quarters on use of the vaccine to extinct Africans and black people from the planet by changing our DNA to make us “genetically modified organism” as we have become more of liability to the world than benefits and that the vaccine will “hook us all up to an artificial intelligence interface.” The aforesaid concern is informed by a footage credited to Bill Gates and Carrie Madej, well circulated on social media, urging Africans to refuse COVID-19 vaccine from Europe and America. This concern informs reported cases in the United Kingdom where many Blacks and Asians have refused to be administered COVID-19 vaccine.
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has, however, debunked the claim. It said mRNA in the COVID-19 vaccine “is not able to alter or modify person’s genetic makeup (DNA)” and it “does not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.” Scientifically, no vaccine could genetically modify human DNA, as genetic modification would involve deliberate insertion of foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell and “vaccines have no capacity to do that.” Vaccines are designed to “provoke an immune response to training our bodies to recognise and fight the virus.” Therefore, assuming that Bill Gates and co were not quoted out of context, their assertion is baseless and should be discarded.
As at now, there are over 23 companies in the United States alone working on Coronavirus vaccines and here is the list of some of them: Amgen & Adaptive Biotechnologies; Altimmune; BioNTech& Pfizer; CytoDyn; Gilead Sciences; GlaxoSmithKline; Heat Biologics; Inovio Pharmaceuticals; Johnson & Johnson; Novavax; among others. It is instructive to state that 1.3 billion African people are endangered as they have been left behind in the rollout deals of the vaccines with majority of the countries in the continent experiencing surge in cases and deaths especially with variant type. Again, for the fact that there have not been quality public healthcare on ground in the first instance, most African countries’ hospitals are overwhelmed. To correct its being sidelined for long, World Health Organisation (WHO) is leading a global initiative with Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to start shipping about 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the continent. This arrangement will however be based on the production capacity of the manufacturers and readiness of the recipient countries. This is independent of 320,000 doses already allocated to four African countries – South Africa, Tunisia, Rwanda and Cabo Verde. This vaccine requires storage facility of minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is a serious challenge to meet by most African countries. China has also offered vaccines to 19 African countries to help fight the pandemic and as at 14th February, 2021, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea have received theirs. As at 24th February, Ghana has also received 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford and Pfizer-BioNTechvaccines from COVAX facility.
Nigeria’s first 3.94 million doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) with COVAX facility has arrived notwithstanding our preoccupation with crisis associated with banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram, arrest of peacefully-protesting citizens, among others. While suspicion raised on the vaccine has been dispelled, it is unsafe, risky and irresponsible of any government to administer vaccine on its citizens without confirmation of its suitability from its regulatory bodies like NAFDAC especially in a world of cutthroat competition for survival. Our situation is not completely miserable, anyway. On the 25th February, 2021, the Arole Oduduwa and Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, unveiled series of traditional medicines made from local herbs and approved by NAFDAC. One of the drugs is Verozil, anti-COVID-19 Herbal Immune Boosting drug that has the capacity to fight any disease including COVID-19 and its variants. This feat was made possible by Ojaja Global Outreach, in collaboration with Yem-Kem International Group. This affirms Nigeria’s great potentials to be an actor to reckon with innovation, science and technology. What is lacking is leadership with zeal and commitment to nation-building by the overwhelming majority of our ruling elite.