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Yes to Chinese COVID-19 vaccine production in Nigeria but…

The announcement by the Ambassador of the Peoples Republic of China to Nigeria, His Excellency, Cui Jianchun, that his country is looking into partnering with…

The announcement by the Ambassador of the Peoples Republic of China to Nigeria, His Excellency, Cui Jianchun, that his country is looking into partnering with Nigeria to produce Chinese-made vaccines locally is a welcome development.

The announcement follows the donation of some 470, 000 doses of Chinese-made vaccines to Nigeria earlier in the year.

China is known to produce at least two vaccines, the Sinopharm, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says its “Efficacy for symptomatic and hospitalised disease [is] 79 per cent” and the Sinovac, which WHO says “Prevented symptomatic disease in 51 per cent of those vaccinated and prevented severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation in 100 per cent of the studied population.”

On paper, the Chinese vaccine can be stored in a standard refrigerator at 2-8 degrees Celsius while the Moderna vaccines, for example, needs to be stored at -20 degree Celsius and Pfizer’s vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius. The implication is that the Chinese-made vaccines will be easier to store in developing countries, like Nigeria, using standard refrigerators.

It would be recalled that last year, at the onset of the outbreak, there was a reported agreement for some 14 Chinese health workers to arrive in Nigeria to help fight the pandemic.

While a great display was made of the Chinese health workers arriving in Abuja, where they were photographed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, alongside their gears, nothing was heard of them afterward. Whatever role they played in combating COVID or their true purpose in Nigeria has remained shrouded in mystery.

To avoid a repeat of this scenario, the Nigerian Government must carefully analyse whatever offer is being made by its Chinese counterpart. The terms of the offer must be unambiguous and should be subjected to the scrutiny of the appropriate authorities and their legislative supervisory committees.

Nigeria must also ensure that the offer would definitively increase the scientific and technical competence of local scientists and researchers, boost employment opportunities for Nigerians, guarantee safe working conditions of the Nigerians to be drafted into the programme.

Most important, Nigeria must first verify the efficacy of the vaccines to be produced and their suitability for use in the country.

There have been concerns over the long-term efficacy of the Chinese vaccines, with Malaysia and Thailand for instance announcing in July that they would be phasing out the vaccines on this ground. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) should be co-opted to ensure that global best practices and due diligence that protects the health and safety of Nigerians are guaranteed.

The vaccines must be compatible with the environmental and physiological peculiarities of the country and its citizens.

Avenues should also be created for the full participation of local research institutes in the partnership to not only increase their competence and acquaint them with recent innovations in the field but also ensure they can share knowledge and make significant inputs in adapting the vaccines to the country’s needs.

It is sad that Nigeria, despite having several research institutes, such as the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and the National Institute for Medical Research (NMR) all on the bill of the government, has not fully exploited the chances of developing vaccines locally or partnering with other governments and private companies to do so.

In the light of this, the offer by the government of the Peoples Republic of China provides the avenue to exploit the international synergy needed to fight the global pandemic and build the competence of less developed countries to prepare for future eventualities.

At the same time, Nigeria should look for means to come into this arrangement as a contributing partner. While China will clearly take the lead, it is also important for Nigeria’s image that the country avoids being a passive partner. It must therefore bring something to the table so that in the next few years, it will be playing a similar role of helping especially other African countries to develop. Not only through political proclamations but also through science and technology.

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