In the past week, several Nigeria media platforms published reports that Nigerian scientists had discovered a vaccine for Coronavirus (COVID-19).
One of the headlines, specifically from the Nigerian Guardian, read, ‘’Nigerian universities’ scientists discover a vaccine for COVID-19’’.
The claim was widely shared in Nigeria and reported by a section of the international media.
No, Nigerian scientists have not discovered a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the novel Coronavirus.
On Friday, June 19, 2020, during a press conference, a group of Nigerian scientists under the COVID-19 Research Group led by Dr Oladipo Kolawole of Adeleke University, Ede, in Osun state announced that they have a potential candidate for a vaccine.
While some news media outlets went with headlines that suggested a vaccine had been found for the novel coronavirus, what the scientists said at the conference was that they had found potential candidates for a vaccine.
Kolawole, a specialist in Medical Virology, Immunology and Bioinformatics explained that the group had been working extensively by exploring the SARS-CoV-2 genome from across Africa.
According to him, the team selected the best possible potential vaccine candidates for the trial and also made the possible latent vaccine constructs.
What this means is that they now have the underlining foundation to start the development of a vaccine having assembled the genome (a genome is the genetic material of an organism) samples and the vaccine construct.
In a report published on June 23, 2020, Professor Olubukola Oyawoye, the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the Adeleke University, told BBC Pidgin that the claim on that scientists from the university have found coronavirus vaccine is not accurate.
Oyawoye said what the press briefing sought to deliver was to state that research is ongoing at the institution to find a vaccine for coronavirus.
Also, in a June, 2020 publication of COVID-19 candidate vaccines landscape prepared by the World Health Organization, the UN agency listed 129 candidate vaccines across the world in the preclinical evaluation stage.
This list did not include the claim from the COVID-19 Research Group headed by Dr Kolawale.
How Vaccines are Developed
The process of vaccine development involves several layers and phases research, trials and licensing and control. It should be noted that what the group has just done is the first step.
Vaccines take years to develop under typical circumstances. Scholars believe the process can take between five to ten years. Scientists spend these years researching whether their ideas work, developing reagents and tests to measure their success (or lack thereof), and finally, using animals to test their ideas.
In most cases, scientists first test their ideas in small animals like mice, rats or rabbits and then again in larger animals like monkeys. These ideas are then presented to other scientists and peer-reviewed in papers, journals and scientific presentations.
Reacting to the COVID-19 cases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its declaration in April 2020, said while a vaccine for general use takes time to develop, a vaccine may ultimately be instrumental in controlling this worldwide pandemic.
“In the interim, we applaud the implementation of community intervention measures that reduce spread of the virus and protect people, including vulnerable populations, and pledge to use the time gained by the widespread adoption of such measures to develop a vaccine as rapidly as possible,” WHO said.
The COVID-19 Research Group has not found a vaccine for COVID-19,
what they found are the possible potential vaccine candidates.
The Centre for Democracy and Development is, therefore, urging members of the public to read news report with scepticism and beyond just the headlines to stay informed as the pandemic reaches a critical stage.