Experts are saying people should still take covid-19 safety rules more seriously as new infections rise in Europe, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa.
Recent updates on the COVID-19 situation in Africa showed that more than 3.2 million people have tested positive, projecting the likelihood of a third wave of the virus hitting East Africa.
The African Union (AU)’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in a number of countries with increased infections. The latest data on the AU CDC portal showed that almost 95,000 people had died in Africa after contracting the coronavirus, while close to 2.8 million patients have recovered on the continent.
Coupled with the slow rollout of vaccines in Africa, health experts are expressing concern over the possibility of achieving herd immunity in time to contain the feared third wave if it happens.
In Nigeria, experts also worry about if the fragile health system and lean budget for health withstand the third wave and when or if Nigeria would receive the next batch of COVID-19 vaccines.
Speaking on the issue, a leading virologist, vaccinologist and leader of the COVID-19 vaccine task team of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, Dr Simon Agwale, said “There are no enough COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria to stop the third wave, so it is possible that Nigeria may experience the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the absence of enough vaccines to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of our population, the magnitude of the surge will depend on the willingness of the public to abide by physical distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions and the extent to which variants of concern emerge.”
Agwale said the best approach would be to build a resilient health system for proper management of patients where proper clinical trials can be safely conducted.
He said at least those that recover would build a substantial immune response that could protect them from re-infection.
The vaccinologist said recent studies show that reinfections are rare in people below 65 years of age and more in people above 65 years. He said this means the country should take care of the elderly population and it is good that they are prioritised to receive the vaccines. Agwale said, across the globe, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 is evolving ways to evade the immune system and become more infectious.
He said the implications are that Nigerians are going to start seeing more cases because the virus has basically gained the ability to be transmitted from one person to another more efficiently.
Agwale added: “Secondly, we would see that the current diagnostics, drugs and vaccines could be less effective. The best way to prevent the emergence of variants is to stop them from spreading by implementing mass vaccinations. This again is not feasible because of the acute shortage of vaccines globally and the situation may not improve in the next couple of months. In the short term, we’ll have to depend on getting existing vaccines, but there is no guarantee that we’ll get enough doses for our people because the wealthy countries have already bought most of the doses.
“We have to start working on manufacturing our vaccines and this is the best way that we can guarantee enough doses for our population. I am surprised that we are still not taking this seriously because we can make this happen for Nigeria.”
214 people have tested positive for the disease and according to figures released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), total fatalities rose to 2,031 as of Tuesday, with confirmed infections at 162,076 after over 1.7 million tests were conducted in the country of more than 210 million people since March last year.