The Federal Government says the uncertainty over the ability to raise $1.5 million cost of clinical trial is responsible for the delay in the local production of COVID-19 vaccine.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said this on Thursday at the ministerial media briefing organised by the Presidential Communication Team at the State House, Abuja.
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Dr Ehanire said a Nigerian researcher had developed a COVID-19 vaccine candidate with a high probability to succeed but the cost of clinical trial has become an obstacle.
The minister, who wondered how to secure the $1.5 million needed to fulfill all the stages of the trial, said government might have to look for sponsors who would recoup their investment when the vaccine is successful.
Ehanire, who was asked about the progress on local vaccine production, said: “There is no personal interest in this. There are at least two, perhaps even three, Nigerian laboratories that have developed what you call vaccine candidates.
“In fact, yesterday, we also talked to a fourth Nigerian laboratory, based in Maryland, USA, he has also produced his own vaccine candidate. A vaccine candidate means that you have already been able to get the antigen, you have produced something that will work.
“Now, you have to do what is called the clinical trials; clinical trial means you go through testing it that it’s safe. First of all, if it’s safe, it doesn’t cause a problem. Secondly, that it does what it promises to do; generate antibodies in your system. Okay.
“So, you go through those clinical trials, which are very detailed and they are expensive.
“One of our researchers here, who has produced such a candidate, I asked him, how much do you think you’ll need to go through these clinical trials; phase one, phase two, phase three? At least $1.5 million.
“That’s a lot. Do we have that now to test a vaccine?
“Well, we say we look for sources where we can get the sponsors, because the sponsorship is what you need.
“What some people do is that they invest in it and then once you produce the vaccine it’s successful, they buy it and that means you are done. But if it turns out not to have worked, your money is gone.
“It’s hard to find a way to sponsor these clinical trials because the are expensive and they have a very good chance of being successful, but some of them also have a good chance of not being able to see strong enough you know, the trick of efficacy. The efficacy means how well it works.
“So, we want to support our own vaccine and do the necessary to make sure they come out, but we are looking for the funds to support and also the necessary technical and whatever other backings that are required to get them to a level where they can… not only shall we be proud, it will be cheaper for us, we can be able to export also.
“So, we are looking at that, we’re looking for it and that’s in fact our preference. We know that those who are producing a vaccine now, we are at their mercy and I’ve said before that even if you have money now, you may not even get your vaccine.”
The minister said government’s decision to get a clearer picture of the different prices of the available vaccines was responsible for the delay in getting the supplementary budget ready for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
President Muhammadu Buhari was expected to forward a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to provide for funding of the COVID-19 vaccination in the country and as well make more money available to procure military hardware.
But the minister said the figures are still in rough stages and would soon be done.
He added: “There are different prices of the vaccines and we don’t really know exactly the one we’re getting. And we also know that the ones we’re getting from COVAX is at no cost to us. So, what we’re doing is that the additional ones that we’re going to get will take care of 50 million Nigerians, COVAX will take care of 20 million, they are even offering to take care of more than that, maybe up to 30 million.
“The prices vary, some vaccines are in the neighborhood of $20 or $30, others are $5 or $6. So to really make a budget, we are working on rough sketch, some money have been earmarked. But Mr. President has also announced that there will be a supplementary budget. But we want to get a clearer picture first, before you actually submit a budget.
“So, we only have rough figures and as soon as those figures are there we can continue. We are also looking for perhaps, as I said, if we have to make the the payments, we can find some money to do that. But when that budget time comes, we need some precise information.”
Asked to give an idea of a rough figure, Ehanire said: “Well, I can’t disclose any figure to you now because is not something we can immediately put out because as I said before, the prices are different.
“We are looking at Johnson and Johnson now, but if for example, we are to get more AstraZeneca vaccine, there is a steep difference between the two. And then again, if they are going to give you the Pfizer vaccine, Pfizer was on the original list of COVAX and that is different. So we’re not really going to go public but very soon we will once we have all the figures.”
Support for production
The minister said Nigeria is also engaging in conversation on how to get support for the production of vaccines in the country.
He announced that the country would have had two million people fully vaccinated by the end of this second dose of vaccination with the change the tactics.
He expressed optimism that another batch of vaccines might have been delivered in the country before the end on the current phase that focused on the administration of second dose to those who had got their first jabs.
“This time, it might be Johnson and Johnson or it might be the same AstraZeneca or any other thing because we are ready now to take any vaccine,” he said, while lamenting the fact that Nigeria might not get AstraZeneca vaccine from India until later in the year because of the third wave of the pandemic in their country.
He however said that the country might receive Johnson and Johnson vaccine by August.
He advised Nigerians to continue to adhere to the existing protocols to prevent the virus as the country is not yet out of the woods.