Amidst growing scepticism over plans by the Federal Government to roll out COVID-19 vaccines without local clinical trials, Dr Ayotunde Fasunla has cautioned Nigerians against embracing conspiracy theories.
Fasunla, the Chairperson of the Oyo State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), gave the warning in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Saturday, in Ibadan.
Fasunla said that there might be no reason to conduct local clinical trials on COVID-19 vaccines that had already been approved by the WHO, owing to the exigencies of the novel coronavirus.
The NMA chair argued that subjecting the vaccines to local clinical trials, especially amidst a second wave of the pandemic, may do more harm than good to Nigerians.
“I am not condemning the opinion of my colleagues in calling for local clinical trials before the administration of any COVID-19 vaccine in the country.
“However, my sincere personal opinion is that subjecting the vaccines, whose efficacy and safety have been documented, to local clinical trials will waste precious time needed to save people’s lives.
“These vaccines were developed based on science unless we don’t believe in science anymore. These COVID-19 vaccines have been tested on white and black people, even if they are not Nigerians or Africans.
“Yes, we may have subtle genetic differences from that of people who were tested, but these vaccines are developed to target organisms and not humans.
“In the past, when vaccines or any medication were created, did we ask for local clinical trials before they were administered?
“As a doctor, if someone brings some new medication from abroad, do we first demand for a local clinical trial?” he asked.
Asked if Pfizer’s history of controversial drug trial in Nigeria was not a barrier to the acceptance of their COVID-19 vaccine in the country, Fasunla said what happened in the past was an isolated incident.
“I see this as a conspiracy theory pushed by people with unsubstantiated claims. What conspiracy theory does is to fuel fear, distrust and lead to missed opportunities for vaccination.
“Moreover, what happened with Pfizer in the past, they will not have come without the consent of Nigerians or their agreement to use to test it on their population.
“I also don’t believe any government will agree to deliberately harm their citizens because their family members are also part of the citizenry,” he said.
Clinical trials are research investigations in which people volunteered to test new treatments, interventions or tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage various diseases or medical conditions.
Nigeria is expecting its first batch of WHO approved COVID-19 vaccines. including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with plans to immediately begin giving the jab to the population.
Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), had revealed that the regulatory agency had requested for data on the vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and the Russians.
She said that once the safety and efficacy of the vaccines were certified, it will be administered on Nigerians.
Dr Olubusuyi Adewumi, a virologist at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, said that local clinical trials would help understand the vaccines on the population.
NAN also recalled that the NMA had in December 2020 also backed calls for the COVID-19 vaccines to be subjected to local clinical trials on Nigerians before any roll-out by the government.
They had cited biology, environment and genes of Nigerians as reasons why local clinical trials must be quickly conducted.
WHO had on Dec. 31, 2020, granted emergency validation to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, making it the first vaccine to get the global health body’s stamp of approval.