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National Veterinary Research Institute home to vaccine development, production – NVRI Director

by Christiana Gokyo, Jos

The Director, National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), Vom, Dr. Maryam Muhammad has said NVRI has been a solution provider with decades of history in vaccine research, development and production in the country.

She narrated that, the institution is committed to development and promotion of home-grown solutions; adding, “the facility is sitting on a 20,000 hectres of land made of administrative block, laboratories and three farmlands.”

She was speaking when the Ministers of Agriculture and Health, Dr. Mohamed M. Abubakar and Dr. Osagie Ehanire were on a one-day working visit on Human Covid-19 Vaccine Production to the institution recently in Vom, near Jos.

The NVRI director further explained that, the institution has highly skilled personnel and technical platforms, saying that, “some of the achievements of the institution include development of animal vaccines and biological, producing up to 120 million doses of vaccines annually.”

Others, according to her, are development of diagnostic reagents, development and equipment of laboratories, development and manufacturing of ethnoveterinary products and sustaining of rapid disease diagnosis and surveillance services having 23 outstation laboratories.

She further pointed out that, in order to adapt the mNRA technology and scale up human COVID-19 vaccine production, NVRI needed support in infrastructural upgrade, supplemental equipment and consumables as well as specialized training.

In a contributory note, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie E. Ehanire, said “NVRI is well positioned for Human COVID-19 vaccine production, and the potentials are clearly here; they have the human resources, the infrastructure and they also have the experience in vaccine production to be able to join community of those, who are producing the human vaccine.”

He assured that the President would be very interested, saying, “Of course, we shall require technical support from advanced countries. We must look for those, who would share technology with us and those, who would sponsor, because to set up something like this requires so much money; so, we would need friends and partners.”

Also, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Mohammed M. Abubarkar, observed that, NVRI Vom is said to be well positioned for Human COVID-19 vaccine production, while recalling that, in 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) decided that four countries in Africa can go into production of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Nigeria happened to be one of these countries. 

He said, the Federal Government used to produce vaccines in Yaba, in Lagos State, but the facility was shutdown since 1992 for renovation, and was later abandoned completely.  

According to him, “This was probably due to so much oil money Nigeria was making then, and much emphasis was placed on importation rather than looking inward to produce locally, and so the facility was abandoned because we didn’t know we would one day need that facility. By the time we started reviving and restructuring the facility, it was decided that it should be done in collaboration with the private sector.”

The agric minister noted thus: “So, out of that convenience, the Federal Government and the private sector set up a combined Nigeria Vaccine Ltd, but nothing has been produced yet because it’s just about to take-off.

“However, we said we have other possibilities in other places. We know Vom very well because it is very famous for production of animal vaccines for a very long time.

“This is the reason why we are here to explore the possibility of moving fast, because as you just heard, WHO picked us as one of the countries to get methodology for the mNRA platform.

“The mNRA platform is something that is important and it is going to have a lot of potentials to use, not only for COVID-19 but other antigens, and they are already talking about the possibility of it working on malaria, TB vaccines and other tropical diseases,” he stressed.

Dr. Abubarkar said he was proud of his ministry, especially the staff of NVRI, and particularly commended the Director, Dr. Maryam, who has demonstrated a high sense of knowledge of the place and professionalism, saying, “she has proven to know everything that is happening here, about the machines, about the production and operations.”

He observed that, during her presentation, Dr. Maryam indicated how far they have gone in vaccine production and the possibility of producing COVID-19 vaccine.

The minister further explained that, from what they have been doing, the work in this place has been cut down already – from the infrastructure that is already here to personnel, saying, “And I think a great deal of what would be needed are on ground already. This is a matter of adding or subtracting; and I think the sooner we do this, the better for all of us.”

The Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, stated that, “Nigeria is ready for human vaccine production because NAFDAC is ready; in terms of this facility, it has high potentials. We have the personnel with high intellect, and that’s what it takes – the knowledge of how to produce vaccines.”

Also, Dr. Omotayo Bulu, Director of Immunization, USAID, American Embassy, who represented the American Ambassador to Nigeria, said “America always recognized importance of any nation being able to produce its own vaccine. 

“We recognize the importance of Nigeria being able to stand out among the nations of Africa. Nigeria is the largest and not the largest in only population size, but in brains and capacity.”

He noted that, they also recognize the importance of Vom and its capacity in what it can do, and assured of their collaboration with WHO and other partners, who are really strong in this area, and also recognize the importance of that collaboration to move Nigeria to the next level.

He questioned, thus: “If South Africa, Egypt and Algeria are producing vaccines, why can’t Nigeria be the next country on the bloc producing vaccines not just for Nigeria alone but to ship to other countries?”

Speaking to newsmen shortly after touring the facilities, one Dr. Ehanire was asked as to when specifically Nigerians would expect the local production of the human vaccine, taking into account what is on ground at NVRI and also the options declared by the CEO of NVRI. In reply, he said two committees would be set up to enhance the vaccine production. 

He stressed that, “Before you produce vaccine, you have to do a lot of coordination, and we have agreed that we are going to set up one technical working group made up of experts from Ministry of Health, while a Steering Committee would be set up, made of Ministers and Advisers, who would oversee what the Technical Committee is doing. From there, we would move to get the vaccine production on tract.”

He said the presentation of Dr. Muhammad had made two options available to the Federal Government. The first option would take six months, while the second would take one-and-half years for the production of the human vaccine.

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