Local vaccine production: Biovaccine urges govt. on early, full release of approved funds



By Abujah Racheal

The Board Chairman, BIOVACCINE Nigeria Ltd. (BVNL), Prof. Oyewale Tomori, has said that government should not be the “stumbling block” of the initiatives to promote local vaccine production in the country.

Tomori, who is also a Professor of Virology, made the comment on Tuesday while presenting a paper on “Prospects of Local Vaccine Production” in Abuja, at a two-day Strategic Advocacy Retreat on COVID-19 and Health Security in Nigeria.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the two-day strategic retreat is organised by the Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN), in collaboration with the National Advocates for Health, Nigerian Cancer Society and relevant advocacy civil society.

According to Tomori, the infusion of N10 billion is a “needed spanner to repair the wheel of Vaccines production” in the country, but regretted that the 15-month delay in the release of the fund has become a “spanner thrown into the wheel of progress”.

He added that the N10 billion earmarked for local vaccine production should be released and in full.

“Nigeria being able to manufacture her own vaccines will make her better prepared to respond more effectively and adequately to future pandemics and to the COVID-19 pandemic that has continued to evolve,” he added.

Tomori narrated a story on how in the 1990s, Nigerians working at the WHO office in Harare, often talked about the health challenges in Nigeria. “The chance return of two of them (Prof. Eyitayo Lambo and Tomori) contributed to the resuscitation of local vaccine production in Nigeria in 2005. The joint venture agreement signed between the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and May & Baker led to the setting up of BVNL.

“It took two years and the change of government to truncate the operation and life of BVNL. The new government in 2007, dissolved the BVNL Board and it was dead and buried until 2017 when Prof Isaac Adewole, Health Minister at the time, brought BVNL back to life under a new agreement.

“Another issue is the lack of convergence of national focus. Not having focus and convergence with the local production of vaccines and related issues, kills efforts and truncates well-laid out plans.

“For example, the new 10-year GAVI extension not only threw a spanner into BVNL business plans but also delayed the commencement of construction activities for Local Vaccines production.

“The other issue is the 15-month delay in releasing the loudly-announced infusion of N10 billion for Local Vaccine production. The basis for the establishment of BioVaccine was to remove Nigeria from depending on GAVI after it has transited out of vaccine support from 2021.

“If you take your raw materials, you get a raw deal – You must bring something to the table. If we mean to do something, we can do it – Over a 10-day period between 2012 and 2013, Nigeria utilised 10 million doses of yellow fever.

“So, how come we could not administer one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and had to destroy them. We achieved great vaccination feats in the past. We must not only blame those responsible for our current poor performance, but they must be appropriately sanctioned,” he narrated.

According to him, “one voice with one focus is the way forward to achieve the expectations of advocacy.

“The original BVNL plan was and remains the production of routine immunization vaccines. The BVNL plan is, however, flexible enough to include the COVID-19 vaccines if need be,” he explained.

NAN reports that the retreat is a follow-up to the National COVID-19 Summit which was organised by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 in Abuja in December 2021.

Declaring the retreat open, the PSC Technical Head, Dr. Mukhtar Muhammad, commended the efforts of AHBN Coordinator, Dr. Aminu Magashi Garba, for his resilience and doggedness in ensuring the hosting of the Summit.

Muhammad, who was represented by Dr. Ogbonna Amanze, Technical Adviser PSC, called on participants to ensure that recommendations from the summit are implemented to improve COVID-19 response and health security in Nigeria.

He noted that the PSC supports the convening of the retreat and looks forward to a deep dive into the key areas that need urgent interventions. (NAN)