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COVID-19 VACCINE: FROM RUSSIA WITH HOPE

Hardly can any news be more refreshing to Nigerians in particular and much of the world in general at this time, than that of the prospects of a game changer for the vagaries of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the suddenness of its advent and macabre global toll, with respect to the gory harvests of hundreds of thousands of the sick and dead, the pandemic easily assumed a doomsday dimension which leaves in its wake, trails of grief, sorrow and tears in country after country.

 For most Nigerians in particular, life before COVID-19 was already hellish, considering the daily grind of diminished livelihood and hardship, courtesy of an unfeeling and uncaring government, as well as disheartening tales of the country’s descent into the abyss of emasculation, as aided by its leadership community. The advent of COVID-19 in the country with its complement of privations, simply translated into pushing the citizens deeper into hell.

Hence it was that the news of Russia breaking the backbone of the COVID-19 pandemic with the development of a vaccine which checks the disease, was received with palpable elan in Nigeria, and many other parts of the world. In specific terms, the Russian President Vladimir Putin last week announced the development of the vaccine by his country’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, to a gale of mixed reactions across the world.

The Russians even gave the vaccine the nostalgic name of ‘Sputnik V’, in reference to that country’s pioneering feat in leading the world into space on April 12 1961, when it became the first country to place a man – cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, in space. Sputnik which means ‘travelling companion’ in Russian, is the generic name of rockets used by the country for space exploration.

Since the announcement broke, reactions to it have been mixed, and provide a throwback to the ideological rivalry which virtually defined global geopolitics, for a longer span of the twentieth century and into the present order. Hence, while a complement of western countries such as the US, Germany and France debunked the merit of the vaccine as a pioneering relief for the COVID-19 pandemic, on the grounds of undue hastiness by the Russians, some other 20 countries have opted to key into this new drug, with the aim of exploiting whatever potency it offers.

According to some media reports, Israel is even among the countries who have expressed interest in the drug. Just as well, the mercurial President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has not only expressed his country’s interest in the Russian vaccine, but also volunteered to personally serve as one of the early test-patients. Against the backdrop that there are about 150 different initiatives across the globe striving to develop either a vaccine or actual drug for tackling the pandemic, it is not unexpected that so much heat shall trail any early breakthrough like Russia’s.

It needs to be noted that as wide as the COVID-19 has spread across the world, so the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been warning that there is no definitive cure for it, and all affected persons should seek proper medical attention. Just as well have several treatment options been adopted in various territories, with each being touted by its sponsors as capable of curing or slowing down the outrage of the pandemic. Who would blame the WHO which needs to demonstrate utmost care and enforce due protocol before granting approval to any medication for public use. Hence none has been approved so far including the new Russian drug.

Meanwhile the raging debate over curative options for COVID-19, is yet to diminish the merit of the Russian Soyuz V, given the global reputation of Russian medicine. To underscore the integrity of the new vaccine the daughter of President Putin of that country was reported to be among the earliest test patients. This factor will clearly accentuate the acceptance of the new vaccine, the opposition from the ideologically differing Western world notwithstanding.

However, even as the civilized world indulges in the tussle over ideological disparities in the face of a killer pandemic like COVID-19, the scenario offers an interesting backdrop to the response of Nigeria and other African countries to it. While the developed countries are striving to overcome the problem, and are even competing over who delivers the first effective solution, the African situation features a dependence syndrome with the ambience of inertia to develop even home grown solutions. It is as if they are all waiting for the solution to come from the other parts of the world. In fact it will not be surprising that for many African countries, the news of a breakthrough vaccine like Russia’s, is what they have been waiting for, to go back to the pre- COVID-19 days.

In deed if any lessons would come from the COVID-19 dispensation, one of such must be the glaring reluctance by African countries including Nigeria, to change style of governance towards citizen friendliness. Given the scope of emasculation of the world by COVID-19, and the drastic changes it has imposed on the contemporary world, the least that should be expected of governments especially in Nigeria, is to reform the health sector. However, such has so far not happened, while the advent of vaccines like Russia’s  may soon be adopted as alibi for relaxation of COVID related precautions.

As it is, if with the ravages of COVID-19, and the copious flows of resources from both private and public interests, the country has failed to reform its health sector, and may not do so in the foreseeable future, the dividend from new vaccines from foreign sources remains transient. The country need to avoid a situation where new vaccines like Russia’s, may lead to false sense of assurance for the country, and deny it the traction of developing home grown solutions to the pandemic.  

Courtesy  Daily Trust

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