Category: covid-19

No, Nigeria hasn’t found Covid-19 vaccine yet – but hunt is on

Has Nigeria developed a vaccine against Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus? 

News of this potentially significant development was widely shared on social media in late June 2020. A barrage of local headlines also broadcast it, with some international media joining in.

“Breakthrough As Nigerian Scientists Unveil Covid-19 Vaccine,” said the headline of Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper.

The Guardian went with “Nigerian universities’ scientists discover vaccine for Covid-19”.

There has been some consternation in the country that Africa’s largest economy has been reduced to a bystander in the global search for ways to counter the pandemic.

Have these Nigerian researchers beaten others in the hunt for a vaccine? 

Potential vaccine ‘candidate’, not vaccine, discovered

The story stems from a news conference called on 19 June by a group of scientists based in Nigerian universities. It was widely reported that they said they had discovered a vaccine.

A vaccine is a biological preparation that helps the body’s immune system recognise and fight viruses and bacteria. 

The leader of the research team, Dr Oladipo Kolawole of Adeleke University in Osun state, reportedly said the vaccine, while developed in Africa for Africa, would work anywhere.

While the news headlines played up the discovery of a functional vaccine, the articles themselves suggested it was still work in progress.

We therefore asked Kolawole what exactly his team had done.

“We referred to the news as a potential vaccine candidate, not a vaccine. Those who referred to it as a vaccine chose to do what they wanted to do,” he told us.

Researchers focused on African data

Kolawole, a specialist in medical virology, immunology and bioinformatics, said the group had explored the SARS-CoV-2 genome from African countries to select the best possible vaccine.

SARS-CoV-2, or “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”, is the technical name of the virus that causes Covid-19.

In March 2020, Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control announced that local researchers had sequenced the genome of the coronavirus strain in the country’s first confirmed case. They found it to be a match with the virus circulating in Italy and Wuhan, China, the health agency said, adding that this was the first time the virus had been sequenced in Africa.

Sequencing refers to investigating the genetic make-up of an organism. 

Press conference ‘hasty’ – virology expert

Kolawole was also reported as saying it would take a minimum of 18 months before the vaccine could be unveiled to the public.

He told Africa Check that “[the potential vaccine] has to undergo a lot of test trials before you can conclude finally that it is a vaccine. There are a lot of tests to be conducted in animals, humans, and approval from authorities”. 

Professor of virology and former president of the Nigeria Academy of Science, Oyewale Tomori, told Africa Check that the researchers may have been too hasty in calling the press conference as it could lead to the spread of misinformation. 

“It is not correct to say we have found a vaccine, instead it should be called a candidate vaccine. To say we have found a vaccine means you have already tested it and confirmed that it is good. If you called it a candidate vaccine, that would have been correct,” Tomori said.

Authorities ‘not aware’

Nigeria’s centre for disease control told Africa Check it had not received an official notice of a locally produced vaccine.

“Scientific innovations are best announced through peer reviewed scientific publications in reputable journals, not via unvalidated press releases,” said Chinwe Ochu, the head of prevention programmes and knowledge management at the agency.

“As much as NCDC will be happy to receive health innovations to support the public health response, such products must follow standard scientific protocols for scrutiny and validation to ensure they are effective and safe.” 

The path to a vaccine

What hurdles does a vaccine encounter before it is ready for use? According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are six basic stages in developing a vaccine, from the exploratory and clinical development phases to regulatory approval and manufacturing.

As of 23 June 2020, more than 8.9 million cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed around the world. Over 469,000 people had died from the disease. Nigeria had over 20,000 confirmed cases, while more than 500 people had died since the first case was reported on 27 February.

While there were many potential vaccines being developed, there was no operational vaccine available for Covid-19 yet, according to the World Health Organization

According to a 22 June update by the global health agency, there were 13 different candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation, which is a three-phase process. There were another 129 candidate vaccines across the world in the preclinical evaluation stage. No Nigerian vaccine was listed in the update. 

Conclusion: Still long way for Nigeria in search for Covid-19 vaccine

Several media publications reported in late June 2020 that Nigerian scientists had unveiled a vaccine for the new coronavirus. 

But the researchers said what they had was a potential vaccine candidate, and it would be months before it could be said to be effective. The country’s NCDC also said it has no knowledge yet of a functional vaccine.

If confirmed as a candidate, it would join the ranks of tens of others that are in various phases of development. 

Additional reporting by Motunrayo Joel

Further reading:

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website”, with a link back to this page.




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Nigeria and Covid-19: Fact-checking claims about vaccines and lack of research

Nigeria is struggling to mount an effective response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a top pharmacist.

Sam Ohuabunwa, the president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, said in a May 2020 interview with Punch newspaper that the government could have done more to reduce the spread of Covid-19.   

Two months earlier, Ohuabunwa had poked holes in Nigeria’s readiness after its first case was confirmed on 28 February. As of 17 June, the country had more than 17,000 cases and 455 deaths. 

The pharmacist made a number of claims in the interview, covering research and vaccines. We took a closer look at four of them.

Claim

‘In the 1970s and 1980s we were producing vaccines.’

Verdict

correct

Africa Check reached out to Ohuabunwa for his evidence for the claims, but he is yet to respond. We will update this report when he does.

His claim that Nigeria had made vaccines decades ago was in response to a question on whether the country could have been part of the global race to find a vaccine if a production laboratory in Lagos was still functional.

Ohuabunwa described it as a “shame”. 

“You can see that we are going backwards in every aspect. If in the 70s and 80s we were producing vaccines and in 2020 we are not producing any,” Ohuabunwa said.

Lagos lab producing vaccines from 1930s

A vaccine is a biological preparation that helps the body’s immune system recognise and fight viruses and bacteria. 

Nigeria’s Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yaba, Lagos was created from the Rockefeller yellow fever laboratory, established in 1925.

“The Yaba laboratory started producing smallpox vaccine in 1930s, followed by anti-rabies vaccine in 1948 and yellow fever vaccine in 1952,” Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology and former president of the Nigeria Academy of Science, told Africa Check. 

A 1987 technical consultancy report on the laboratory showed that it was making yellow fever vaccines in the 1970s and 1980s. It produced 316,000 doses of yellow fever vaccine in 1978, reaching a peak of more than 500,000 doses in 1987. 

Claim

‘… in 2020 we are not producing any [vaccines].’

Verdict

correct

Ohuabunwa lamented Nigeria’s inability, in 2020, to have a working lab to make vaccines. 

Tomori, the regional virologist for the WHO Africa region from 1994 to 2004, said there had been attempts to upgrade the Yaba vaccines laboratory in 1991.

But several national setbacks, including political instability, meant this did not happen, he said. 

“That facility should have been upgraded to produce more vaccines, but it gradually became inactive,” Tomori told Africa Check.

Could there be others making vaccines? 

Partnership to reduce reliance on imported vaccines

The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, established in 1977, has a mandate to research and produce human vaccines.

Prof Babatunde Salako, the director general of the Lagos-based institute, said it did have a vaccine production laboratory, “but it is not functioning well”. He didn’t clarify the lab’s level of functionality. He directed Africa Check to the pharmaceutical firm May & Baker.

In 2017, the Nigerian government partnered with May & Baker to revive the federal vaccine laboratory in Lagos and start local production of vaccines until 2021. This, it said, would make Nigeria less reliant on international donors such as Gavi, the Global Vaccine Alliance.

“Yaba facilities are being resuscitated for renewal of production of yellow fever and measles vaccines with plans for an ultra modern vaccine plant in Ota, Ogun State,” May & Baker’s website says about the project.

We have asked the firm if it has produced any vaccines yet, and will update this report when they respond.

Vaccine lab remains locked

Tomori told Africa Check that no human vaccines were currently being produced in the country. Only vaccines for animals were being made.

“There is no vaccine lab in Nigeria except at the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, which is producing veterinary vaccines. The vaccine lab at Yaba is dead.” 

He said the federal government’s partnership with May & Baker was an attempt to change this. 

In May 2020, Nigeria’s parliament passed a motion urging the government to reopen the Yaba facility to help fight diseases such as Covid-19.

Chike John Okafor, the federal lawmaker who raised the motion, said the laboratory was closed for upgrades in 1991 and remained locked.

“The House is aware that in 2017, the federal government signed a partnership agreement with May and Baker Nigeria Plc to float a company named Biovaccine Limited for the commencement of local vaccine production in Nigeria, however, the company is yet to commence the production of those life saving vaccines,” Okafor was reported saying.

Claim

‘Nigeria has 69 research institutes.’

Verdict

unproven

Ohuabunwa urged the government to properly evaluate and fund those who had claimed to have treatments for the virus.

“For Nigeria to have 69 research institutes shows that Nigeria understood that research pays, but the question is what are they doing?” he asked. “If you go to them you would see they are not well funded.”

Africa Check has asked Ohuabunwa what types of research institute he was referring to, as they vary from public to private and independent, and those at universities.

Fewer than 69 institutes

We traced the claim of 69 institutes in Nigeria to the blog Fatherprada. It says it provides “inspirational quotes as well as the very best of student-related content”.

Enebeli Ifenayi, who works on the blog, told Africa Check that “the figure may not be complete. We only listed 69 known research institutes in Nigeria.”

But according to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, the number is incorrect. 

Dr Baba Madu, the head of the bureau’s national accounts and macro-economic analysis unit, told Africa Check that according to 2020 data,  “Nigeria has 41 research institutes not 69 institutes. That is the figure we have in our data.”  

We also looked for publicly funded institutes in budget documents. Nigeria’s proposed budget for 2020 lists 34 centrally funded research institutes.

Inadequate funding of existing institutes

But without clarification of what type of research institutions Ohuabunwa meant, we can only rate this claim as unproven.

Experts, however, agree that research institutes are not adequately funded. 

“Rather than talking about the number, I’ll talk about a merger,” Prof Babatunde Salako, the head of the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), told Africa Check.

He said in his view, all health research institutes in Nigeria should be collapsed into one to save public funds and strengthen collaboration.

Tanimola Akande, a professor of public health, said research institutes in Nigeria were not funded to “be really productive”. 

“The enabling environment for high impact research is scarce,” he told Africa Check.

Claim

‘No single Covid-19 research has been sponsored in Nigeria’.

Verdict

incorrect

I can tell you conclusively and authoritatively that to date, no single research [into Covid-19] has been sponsored in Nigeria. None, the government has not sponsored any,” Ohuabunwa said. 

But he is off the mark here. 

In March 2020 the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control announced that researchers had sequenced the genome of the coronavirus strain in Nigeria’s first Covid-19 case. “It proved it to be a match with the virus circulating in Italy and Wuhan,” the centre said.

‘Covid-19 research with government funds’

The NIMR’s Salako said Ohuabunwa’s claim was incorrect.  

“It would not be right to say no single Covid-19 research has been sponsored by the Nigerian government,” he told Africa Check.

He said the NIMR was conducting a trial of chloroquine and erythromycin, funded with a donation from the minister of works and housing, Raji Fashola

Salako added that scientists at the institute were also trying to come up with a diagnosis kit and working on a candidate vaccine.

“All this research is happening in NIMR and is being done with government funds, not ours. As I speak to you, researchers are conducting research on Covid-19, and it isn’t their money they are using to do research.”

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website”, with a link back to this page.




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Covid-19 pandemic: Fact-checking former Nigeria VP Abubakar’s claims about the economy

Former Nigeria vice president Atiku Abubakar recently criticised the current administration’s plan to borrow nearly US$6.9 billion, saying the country should instead seek debt relief and push for higher oil prices. 

Nigeria is looking for $6.9 billion from three multilateral lenders. Finance minister Zainab Ahmed has said this is to cushion the country from “existential threats” due to the Covid-19 pandemic and falling prices of oil, its top foreign exchange earner.

Writing in the daily Vanguard newspaper in April 2020, Abubakar, who has vied for the presidency four times, made a number of statements to support his position. We fact-checked six.

Claim

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the globe, Nigeria spent 42% of its earnings on debt servicing.

Verdict

mostly-correct

We asked the former vice president to provide evidence for his claims and for clarifications where necessary. We will update this report when he responds.

The first cases of the novel coronavirus outside mainland China were reported in January 2020, according to the World Health Organization.

Nigeria spent N2.1 trillion (about US$6.9 billion at the current official exchange rate) to service its debt in 2019, according to the country’s debt management office. Of this, N1.69 trillion ($5.5 billion) was for domestic debt, and N408 billion ($1.3 billion) for foreign debt. 

Nigeria’s revenue in 2019 was N4.77 trillion, according to the country’s central bank. This came from sources such as oil and gas, value added tax, corporate tax and custom duty.

Taken as a proportion of this revenue, about 44% was spent servicing debt. We therefore rate Abubakar’s figure of 42% as mostly correct.

Economist warns debt servicing level ‘unsound’

Economics professor Philip Olomola told Africa Check that while there are “valid reasons” for the debt owed by the government, using nearly half of the country’s earnings to repay it was unsound in the long run.

“In the face of dwindling revenue, governments take loans for projects and to keep the country running. However, debt servicing taking over 40% of the country’s earnings is not sustainable,” Olomola, who teaches at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, said.

Claim

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa is projecting that Africa’s growth will drop to 1.8%, and perhaps lower.

Verdict

correct

The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa focuses on the economic and social development of the continent.

Abubakar said it was inevitable that Africa would take an economic hit from the pandemic, and said the agency had already revised growth projections for the region.

A spokesperson for the commission, Privat Akochaye, directed Africa Check to a French-language report published in April 2020. This showed that the agency had pared back its growth forecast for the region for 2020, from 3.2% to between 1.8% and 2% in a best-case scenario. But this could shrink to 0.1% or, in a worst-case scenario, to as low as -2.6%.

The commission therefore did revise its projections, though these forecasts tend to often change as more information becomes available. 

Claim

The price of oil was lower when president Obasanjo and Abubakar assumed office on 29 May 1999 than it is today …

Verdict

mostly-correct

The former VP’s point was that a crash in the price of oil should not automatically “trigger a crisis”.

Abubakar took office as president Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy on 29 May 1999, serving two terms until 2007.

In May 1999, the price of Nigeria’s main crude oil export, Bonny Light, was US$16.94 per barrel, according to historical data from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

On 8 April 2020, the day Abubakar’s article was published, Bonny Light crude sold at $25.89 per barrel. Strictly interpreted, Abubaka was accurate that the price of oil was lower in 1999.

Be cautious when comparing oil prices, says economist

But comparing the prices of oil in 1999 and in 2020 should be done with caution, economics professor Philip Olomola told Africa Check.

“There is a need to consider economic fundamentals such as the changes in the demand for the commodity,” he said. 

“The US for instance was buying more crude oil from Nigeria in 1999 than it is buying today. It’s not just about the price. Even if it rises to $100 per barrel, if there are no buyers, it would make no difference,” he said. 

Claim

… yet they paid off Nigeria’s entire foreign debt.

Verdict

incorrect

Returning to a familiar 2019 presidential campaign talking point, Abubakar compared debt levels during his time as VP with those of the current administration of president Muhammadu Buhari.

When he exited office in 2007, Nigeria’s foreign debt had been “paid off”, Abubakar said. Is this accurate?

A highlight of the Obasanjo administration was a debt cancellation deal it negotiated with the “Paris Club”, an informal group of 22 creditor countries.

In 2005 the creditors wrote off $18 billion of the roughly $30 billion Nigeria had owed them at the end of 2004. This was 84% of the country’s foreign debt as at December 2004.

Nigeria still had to pay $12.4 billion, according to the public announcement by the group, which was made in April 2006.

Nigeria also paid its debt to private banks known as the “London Club” in a similar deal. The country’s debt office showed this was done in 2007. But this statement of accounts showed Nigeria’s foreign debt was $3.54 billion at the end of 2006 and $3.65 billion at the end of 2007. 

The data shows the Obasanjo government did not settle Nigeria’s foreign debt as the VP claimed. They handed over to a new government in May 2007. That year, Nigeria still spent more than $1 billion to service foreign debts.

Claim

Nigeria has devoted N37 billion to renovating the national assembly complex, which was built from the scratch for less than 20% of that amount.

Verdict

unproven

Abubakar also faulted the recent approval of a reported N37 billion to renovate the national assembly, which he said was “built from scratch” for less than a fifth of this.

Nigeria’s plan to spend this amount, approved in December 2019, is the subject of public debate

The contract to initially build the national assembly was awarded in February 1996, with construction lasting two and a half years. The company that built it has given the value of the contract as N7 billion.

But the value of Nigeria’s currency has depreciated significantly over the years, economics professor Philip Olomola told Africa Check.

When comparing the two figures, one “should consider factors such as changes in exchange rate and in the cost of construction equipment and material”, the economist said. 

Difficult to do a direct comparison

In 1996 the exchange rate was N21.9 to the US dollar. This means about $320 million was devoted to the construction of the complex.

In December 2019, when the renovation budget was approved, the official exchange rate was N306 to the dollar, or $121 million. 

Olomola said the purchasing power of N7 billion in 1996 is likely to be more valuable than that of N37 billion today. 

Building costs higher in 2020 than 1996, says quantity surveying expert

The cost of building equipment and material has also generally increased over the years, King Nyenke, a professor of quantity surveying at the Rivers State University, told Africa Check.

Nyenke said that if he were provided with the same bill of quantity as in 1996, the cost of building it now “would be higher” than N7 billion.

Because of the changes in these fundamentals, it is difficult to know for certain if the repair bill for the national assembly would be less than 20% what it cost to construct it. 

So we rate this claim as unproven.  

Claim

N13 billion was devoted to the State House clinic in the last five years.

Verdict

incorrect

The hospital at the president’s official residence is often reported as being ill-equipped and barely functional despite being allocated a large budget every year. 

“It is virtually useless as we face the most significant public health challenge of our national life,” Abubakar wrote, claiming that N13 billion was allocated to the hospital in the five years to 2020. A similar claim was published by the Daily Trust newspaper on 6 April.

Budget documents of 2016 to 2020 differ

The budget allocation to the facility in the 2016 budget – the first of Buhari’s administration – was N2.83 billion. It dropped to N331.7 million in the 2017 budget before rising to N1.03 billion in the 2018 budget. 

In 2019 N799 million was budgeted for the hospital, and N723 million for 2020. The total is about N5.7 billion – less than half Abubakar’s claim. (Note: The amounts released are sometimes less than what’s budgeted, but a lack of historical data on budget implementation makes it difficult to know the exact amount that reached the hospital over the period.)

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LIVE GUIDE: All our coronavirus fact-checks in one place

The global spread of the Covid-19 disease has led to unprecedented measures around the world. But spreading almost as fast has been misinformation. [LAST UPDATED: 27 AUG 2020]

As the world battles to bring Covid-19 infections under control, more and more people are seeking information around the virus.

The World Health Organization says that the pandemic has been accompanied by an “infodemic“: “an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”. 

Africa Check has been busy fact-checking viral WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts, tweets and news articles. We will continue to do so as long as there is a need for accurate information during this difficult time. 

We have grouped our fact-checks into a running list of six broad categories. 

Want even more fact-checks?

Do you have questions for us? Please submit them through our dedicated Info Finder Covid-19 page. You can also find answers to the questions you have asked.


Bonus Reads – all about masks:

ANALYSIS: Not all cloth masks are equal, but better than no protection from coronavirus

And on 5G:

FACTSHEET: Five questions about 5G technology answered

More Resources

Are you a reporter battling against the tide of misinformation? Or just keen on learning more about misinformation in this tough period?

Share this #LiveGuide

Many people may feel helpless during this time, especially if they are working from home or self-isolating. But we can all help combat false and misleading information about the novel coronavirus.

Please share this #LiveGuide and encourage your friends and family to share accurate information. Tag @AfricaCheck and use #CoronaVirusFacts.

 

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website”, with a link back to this page.




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