FACT CHECK: Nigeria has not found Covid-19 vaccine - but the hunt is on

The technical name for the virus that causes Covid-19 is SARS-CoV-2, or "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2".
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COVID-19 Cases

Has Nigeria developed a Covid-19 vaccine, the disease brought on by the new coronavirus?

In late June 2020, news of this potentially important development was widely spread on social media. It is also covered by a barrage of local news, with some foreign media joining in.

"Breakthrough As Nigerian Scientists Unveil Covid-19 Vaccine," said the headline of Nigeria's Leadership newspaper.

The Guardian went with "Researchers of Nigerian universities discover Covid-19 vaccine"

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

Potential vaccine 'candidate', not vaccine, discovered

The story comes from a news conference organized by a group of scientists based in Nigerian universities on 19 June. We have been widely reported that they have developed a vaccine.

A vaccine is a biological preparation which helps to recognize and fight viruses and bacteria in the body's immune system.

The research team leader, Dr Oladipo Kolawole of Adeleke University in the state of Osun, reportedly said the vaccine would work everywhere while it was being designed for Africa.

Although a viable vaccine was discovered in the news media, the papers themselves indicated that it was indeed a work in progress.

Hence we asked Kolawole exactly what 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, medical virology, immunology, and bioinformatics specialist, said the group had explored the African countries SARS-CoV-2 genome to select the best vaccine possible.

The technical name for the virus that causes Covid-19 is SARS-CoV-2, or "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2".

In March 2020, Nigeria's Center for Disease Control announced that in the country's first confirmed case, local researchers had sequenced the coronavirus strain genome. The health agency said they considered it to be a fit with the virus circulating in Italy and Wuhan, China, adding that this was the first time the virus had been sequenced in Africa.

Sequencing refers to the study of an organism's genetic structure.

Press conference 'hasty' - virology expert

Kolawole has also been reported as saying it would take at least 18 months to unveil the vaccine 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".

Oyewale Tomori, professor of virology and former president of the Nigeria Academy of Science, told Africa Check that the researchers may have been too hasty to call the press conference because it may lead to misinformation spreading.

"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 disease control centre told Africa Check it had not received an official note of a vaccine that had been developed locally.

"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."

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

In late June 2020, several media outlets announced that Nigerian scientists had launched a new coronavirus vaccine.

However, the researchers said what they had was a possible candidate for the vaccine, and it would take months before it could be said to be successful. The NCDC also said that the country has no knowledge of a working vaccine yet.

If accepted as a candidate, it will enter the ranks of tens of others who are at different developmental phases.

Sourced from News24 analysis

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