Meet Onyema Ogbuagu, Nigerian graduate leading Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine research in US

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the world has never been the same. Sadly, the pandemic has led to over 1.3 million deaths globally with the United States being the country with the most casualties of more than 250,000 deaths.

American multinational pharmaceutical corporations Pfizer and BioNTech had announced that the first vaccine they developed against COVID-19 could help prevent more than 90 per cent of people from getting infected. The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and has been confirmed to be effective.

One of those leading the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine research in the US is Onyema Ogbuagu, a Nigerian-born researcher and medical doctor. Onyema is an associate professor of medicine in the clinician-educator track, he and his twin brother were born in New Haven in Connecticut, which serves as home to the Ivy League Yale University in the US. The Onyema’s returned to Nigeria, where Ogbuagu was a graduate of the department of medicine at the University of Calabar, Cross River state, in 2003. After graduation, he had his intern at the Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Nigeria. He then proceeded to intern Mount Sinai School of Medicine (Elmhurst), New York where grew through the ranks to become chief resident at the same school after which he became a fellow of infectious diseases, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.

The Nigerian-born professor has been at the forefront of several types of research in the US and Africa. He has years of experience working as a faculty of the human resources for health programme in Rwanda where he mentors medical residents and junior faculty in quality improvement and clinical research projects that are locally relevant and addressing important infectious diseases-related problems (particularly HIV/AIDS and antimicrobial resistance).

In 2015, Ogbuagu was inducted as a fellow in the American College of Physicians. In 2017, he was a nominee for the Charles W. Bohmfalk Award in Clinical Science, Yale University School of Medicine. In the same year, he won the Steve Huot Faculty Award for Dedication and Excellence, Yale University School of Medicine Internal Medicine Primary Care programme.

Ogbuagu is one of the doctors leading the Pfizer trial. He is 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.

Speaking on the 90 percent efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine, Ogbuagu said the drug will help people achieve immunity, and that it will be “the beginning of the end of the pandemic”.

In an interview with ABC News, Ogbuagu said efforts are being made to assure the public of the vaccine’s safety as due process is being followed despite the speed in rolling out the vaccines.

“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.

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