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Nigeria Needs Political Will to Re-Emerge West African Sub-Region Vaccine Hub – Scientists

Medical laboratory scientists and researchers have said what Nigeria needs to produce its human vaccines is the right political will and commitment from the government.

They held that Nigeria can still re-emerge West African sub-region vaccine hub, a position it occupied between 1940 and 1991.

The scientists noted that producing vaccines in Nigeria is not rocket science, stressing that since the country was able to do it in the past, it can still do it again, especially now that technology has advanced tremendously.

The researchers said the country has the human capacity needed to produce vaccines but requires government commitment to provide the infrastructure to get it done.

They urged President Bola Tinubu-led administration to eschew politics and provide an enabling environment for local vaccine production, stressing that it was long overdue, citing the country’s experience during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to them, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of countries, especially in Africa, to develop the manufacturing capacity to produce vaccines to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products.

The health professionals who spoke at the 1st National Conference of the West African Postgraduate College of Medical Laboratory Science, Nigeria Chapter, organised by the body in Lagos, said there is a need for the country to prepare for the next pandemic.

Speaking on the theme, ‘Human Vaccine Production in Nigeria: The Politics, Policies and Projections’, the scientists said Nigeria can get the vaccine production done if the right people are allowed to take over the designing and running of the vaccines.

A former Vice-Chancellor of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Professor Denis Agbonlahor, told our correspondent that it was disheartening that Nigeria was producing human vaccines before but today relies on importation.

He said, “This time around, we must not miss it. We should de-emphasize corruption that was part of the killing of the former structures that were here many years back.

“There is an urgent need to organise a conference on human vaccine production in Nigeria to speak on the polity, the policies, and then the projections of embarking on such a project.

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“Talking about the politics of vaccine production in this country, vaccine production about 60 years ago, started at the Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory, Yaba, Lagos, where we were producing human vaccines, at that the time.”

The professor said the country’s National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, Jos, Plateau State, is still producing animal vaccines, insisting that the production of human vaccines is possible.

He added, “Yes, Nigeria can produce human vaccines if there is political will from the government. We don’t know the shape the next pandemic will take and we don’t know the type of organism that will cause that.

“But we should be ready as a nation. The government should be committed to the methodologies and technologies involved.

“We have the human capacity to pursue it if only government can support the process and create the enabling environment by providing the funds for establishing the technologies here in this country once and for all.

“The technologies and medical laboratory scientists involved are still available. The government must be sincerely committed; they must be involved to support the project.”

Available reports showed that years after the Federal Government announced plans to restart local vaccine production at the Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory, Yaba, Lagos, nothing significant has changed at the facility.

The vaccine production centre was active for about six decades, between 1940 and 1991, producing large quantities of vaccines against smallpox, rabies, and yellow fever for not only Nigeria, but neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Central Africa, and a few other countries in Africa.

It facility was shut in 1991 by the FG, with the intention to have it reactivated and upgraded. This is yet to be done up till now.

Chairman West African Postgraduate College of Medical Laboratory Science, Nigeria chapter, Professor Anietie Moses, said the new administration should ensure the immediate take-off of human vaccine development in Nigeria, while emphasising the need for collaboration, which he said was crucial.

Also speaking, the Director, Centre of Excellence for Zoonotic and Human Virology, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Professor Sunday Omilabu, said, “Honestly speaking,  we can get the vaccine production done if the right people are allowed to take over the designing and running of the vaccines.

Deputy Chairman of the Conference Organising Committee and researcher at the Nigerian Institute oo Medical Research, Yaba, Dr. Toyosi Raheem, on his part said, “But we have seen obviously that it is not human deficit, it is not too much of infrastructural deficit but too much of politics that is the problem of vaccine production in Nigeria. We want President Bola Tinubu to pay a special focus to the health sector. We have the capacity.”

SOURCE: HealthWise