COVID-19 Vaccine: Should Nigeria Really Trust Pfizer?

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U.S. pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer Inc. and its German partner, BioNTech on Monday announced an effective COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162.

The vaccine, according to the firms, has a 90-per-cent success rate having been tested on 43,500 people in six countries with no safety concerns. That is the highest efficacy rate reported by a COVID vaccine effort by far, according to Observer.

The companies said they planned to apply for emergency authorisation with the United States’ Food and Drug Authority (FDA) regulator next week.

The announcement has been hailed across the globe, with US President-elect Joe Biden describing it as “excellent news” while congratulating the manufacturers for giving the world “cause for hope”.

Read Also: Private sector lost N5tn to #EndSARS unrest – NECA

Pfizer prioritises Nigeria

In August 2020, Pfizer promised to make Nigeria a priority for the availability of the BNT162 COVID-19 vaccine candidate when it eventually becomes available.

The Pfizer Country Manager and Representative in Africa, who spoke for the promoters, Mr. Subair Olayinka made the promise during a virtual meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that was also attended by Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib.

This is reassuring as the scramble for the vaccine has already started.

The European Commission wrapped up negotiations with BioNTech and Pfizer to secure doses of the vaccine for Europe, a spokesperson, Eric Mamer, announced on Tuesday.

German Health Minister, Jens Spahn said that Germany would have access to 100 million doses of the vaccine once the drug has received regulatory approval.

Also, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla confirmed on Monday that the vaccine would be available for free for all Americans and the U.S. government has committed to buying 100 million doses, at about $20 each, by the end of 2020, with the possibility to purchase another 500 million doses next year.

Cautionary note

However, Nigeria must exercise caution in its dealings with Pfizer based on experience.

Pfizer was embroiled in a 15-year legal battle after a controversial meningitis drug trial in 1996 led to the death of 11 children in Kano, which experienced its worst meningitis epidemic that year, The Guardian reported.

A hundred children had been administered an experimental oral antibiotic called Trovan and another hundred administered ceftriaxone. Five children died on Trovan and six on ceftriaxone.

The legal battle began when parents claimed that Pfizer did not obtain their consent before administering an experimental drug on their children and questions were raised over the documentation of the trial.

In August 2011, the company confirmed it paid $175,000 compensation each to four families over their children’s death, with more families to be compensated, after initially arguing that meningitis and not the experimental drug led to the deaths.

The storage challenge

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Observer reported, is based on a novel technology using synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) to activate the immune system against COVID-19, and needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or lower temperature at all times.

Reuters reported Monday that shipping the vaccine, which requires such cold temperatures, around could pose a major logistics problem.

“The cold chain is going to be one of the most challenging aspects of delivery of this vaccination.

“This will be a challenge in all settings because hospitals even in big cities do not have storage facilities for a vaccine at that ultra-low temperature,” Reuters quoted Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, as saying on Monday.

Can Nigeria with its obvious electricity supply challenges bell this cat? Only time will tell.

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