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Profile: Onyema Ogbuagu, Nigerian doctor leading Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine development


Onyema Ogbuagu is a Nigerian-born researcher and medical doctor who has spent his career investigating some of the world’s most pervasive infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS and Ebola, just to name a couple.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Ogbuagu’s ground-breaking research in the field of modified genetic code has catapulted him into the public eye, as he is one of the brains behind the research at Pfizer for the potential world’s first effective coronavirus vaccine.

Some of the fastest vaccines ever developed took at least four years. However, scientists are now racing to develop one for coronavirus under a year.

Dozens of research teams around the world are working to develop a coronavirus vaccine using a mix of established techniques and new technologies.

Funding for a vaccine has never been greater, with billions of dollars pouring in from around the world to make a product that could help to control the pandemic.

There has been a growing optimism after leading drug giants Pfizer and Moderna said preliminary late-stage trial data showed their vaccines were more than 90 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19.

In a historical development that could very well define his career, Nigerian-born Mr Ogbuagu is among the lead researchers developing the Pfizer vaccine.

The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised. Pfizer was quoted as saying it would be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of 2020, and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021.

According to a BBC report, Mr Onyeama said that the efficacy of the drug is as real as it was announced, noting that “it should be noted that when administered, the result is 94% effective among adults that are 65 years old.”

Here are facts you should know about Onyema Ogbuagu:

Mr Onyeama is the son of the former vice-chancellor of Abia State University, Chibuzo Ogbuagu. His mother, Stella is a professor of sociology. And oh, Onyema has a twin brother who is an engineer.

Born in New Haven in Connecticut, which serves as home to the Ivy League Yale University in the US, Onyema would return to Nigeria to complete his university education only to go back to Yale school of medicine to work as the director of the institution’s HIV clinical trials programme.

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The Nigerian medical official studied medicine at the University of Calabar in Cross River state and graduated in 2003. After graduation, he interned at the Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Nigeria.

He then went back to the U.S where he also interned at Mount Sinai School of Medicine (Elmhurst).

After becoming a fellow of infectious diseases, he rose to the height of an associate professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut. He has worked there for five years focusing on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS.

The associate professor has led several researches in the US and Africa. He worked in the faculty of the human resources for health programme in Rwanda where he mentored medical residents and junior faculty in clinical research projects locally relevant in addressing important infectious diseases-related problems (particularly HIV/AIDS and antimicrobial resistance).

He has also worked at the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons (LCPS).

Pfizer vaccine

In an interview with ABC News, Ogbuagu said the Pfizer vaccine will help people achieve immunity, and that it will be “the beginning of the end of the pandemic”.

“The vaccine would help us achieve immunity. This could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Preparations are made both on the government end and the distribution network, including Pfizer who is working to have the vaccine stored at low temperature,” he said.

“While we have been celebrating a lot about having an effective vaccine and frankly, we have run out of emojis. A lot of work really needs to be done to reassure the community and I hope I am doing that also which is why I am on the programme.

“So we are telling the public that even though the vaccines have proceeded at an unprecedented phase, it is being done carefully, thoughtfully and with the right amount of oversight so that vaccines receive emergency use authorisation by the FDA and it passes through all the safety check to show that the efficacy numbers are real and that should really assure the public.”

Watch Mr Onyeama speak on ABC news: https://youtu.be/5JAbZynVqek

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