Meet Nigerian Doctor, Onyema Ogbuagu, Who Helped Develop Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine

American pharmaceutical company, Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, on November 9, 2020, announced that their novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, vaccine candidate was more than 90% effective.

About nine days later, the companies announced that a final analysis of the Phase 3 trial of their vaccine showed it was 95% effective in preventing infections, even in older adults, and caused no serious safety concerns.

At the heart of these trials was Nigerian-born Infectious Diseases Specialist, Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu. He is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale School of Medicine, United States. He is currently Yale principal investigator on multiple investigational therapeutic and preventative clinical trials for COVID-19 including remdesivir (now FDA approved), leronlimab and remdesivir and tocilizumab combination therapy as well as the Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine trial.

Ogbuagu’s work at Pfizer/BioNTech involves Phase 1/2/3, placebo controlled, randomised, observer-blind, dose-finding study to evaluate the safety, tolerability, immunogenicity and efficacy of SARS CoV2 RNA vaccine candidates against COVID-19 in healthy individuals. He started the project in August 2020 and is expected to conclude it in August 2022.

Speaking with ABC News after the final analysis of the vaccine was released during the week, Ogbuagu said the vaccine, which has raised the hopes of millions of people worldwide, would help achieve “the so-called” herd immunity. “This could really be the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” he said.

The doctor noted that there’s insufficient doses for everyone at this stage. He said it will likely be the middle of 2021 before there’s enough doses for everyone.

On the vaccine hesitancy among some members of the public, Ogbuagu said a lot of work needs to be done to reassure people that the vaccine is safe for use even though the trials “proceeded at an unprecedented pace.”

He stated that before the vaccine is approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it must have passed through reliable safety checks.

Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu

Ogbuagu has mostly focused on HIV medicine in the field of treatment and prevention. According to him, this previous work helped him have the machinery ready to conduct clinical trials when COVID-19 hit.

“From April, I led clinical trials on Remdesivir, a therapeutic drug that was granted emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of COVID-19, and since August 26 I have been running trials of a vaccine for COVID-19 prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital,” he said.

Ogbuagu obtained his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree from the University of Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, in 2003.

He is one of the twin sons of Prof. Chibuzo Ogbuagu, a former Vice Chancellor of Abia State University, Uturu, and Secretary to the Government of Abia State. His parents had the twins in New Haven CT when they went for their doctoral programmes at Yale.

On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech applied for FDA Emergency Use authorisation for the vaccine which Ogbuagu helped develop. An authorisation may come before the end of the year, an excellent news for a world that has been ravaged by the coronavirus since January 2020.

Since the pandemic was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, it has killed over 1.3 million people worldwide. It has also infected over 57 million people.

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