By Babajide Okeowo
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has assuaged the fears of Nigerians and Africans occasioned by the emergence of new variants of the Coronavirus Disease.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, on Thursday, said there is “no need to panic because a new variant is emerging.”
Moeti gave this assurance while answering questions from some journalists on the impact of the new variant and COVID-19 vaccine at the WHO Regional Office for Africa’s first online press briefing for 2021.
The regional director said the UN health agency would follow up on the report on the new variant.
“There is nothing to panic about, we need to apply science; we need to reinforce public health response. The new variant is not news until it shows characteristics that are problematic to the response.” Moeti said.
She however emphasised that the COVID-19 vaccine would not stop the pandemic at once while urging countries to be committed to the distribution of vaccines.
Earlier, she said WHO Regional Office for Africa, through COVAX facility, would deliver 600 million doses of the vaccine, while Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) would secure 270 million doses.
According to her, the first tranche will arrive by the end of March with a large roll out by June.
“I think the waiting period will give us the opportunity to reinforce our readiness.
I hope when the vaccines land, our countries will be ready and we will be there to support them.
We will move very strongly to make it available to vulnerable people. We will also continue with public health measures until the coverage is sufficient for us to take life back to kind of new normal’’ she added.
Corroborating Moeti’s position, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said “the new strain of the virus is no news.
“There is nothing to report about it, but it is news when it is associated with an increase in transmission’’ he said.
Earlier, he said, the NCDC was carrying out more investigations on a variant identified in samples collected between August and October 2020.
On COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria, the director-general said NCDC was working with the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to administer the vaccine to priority groups in line with WHO guidelines.
He said NPHCDA would administer it first to frontline healthcare workers, the elderly, and people with pre-existing health conditions.
Ihekweazu, however, said that Nigeria would leverage on successes achieved from polio and yellow fever vaccination campaigns to deliver the vaccination to Nigerians.
In her presentation, Francisca Mutapi, Professor in Global Health Infection and Immunity, University of Edinburgh, UK, gave a report on the new variant found in 23 Africa countries.
Mutapi, however, gave the assurance that the COVID-19 vaccines would help to stem the rate of infection in Africa, calling for phase four clinical vaccine trial to know the impact of the vaccines.
“We need to monitor the impact of the vaccination not just on the side effect but also to learn a bit more about the length of protection.
Also, to know the level of protection in people so phase four clinical trial is very critical after deployment of vaccines,’’ she said.