COVID-19 Vaccines – The Unanswered Questions By Nigerians

COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by a number of companies, have at the moment become the world’s greatest commodity, with nations scrambling to get hold of enough doses for their citizens.

The scrambling for the vaccines, including those of Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech, is not unconnected to the race against time in getting a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently ravaging the globe.

For many, since there is no proven cure, except management, the development of vaccines, though none with a proven ability to provide 100 percent immunity from the deadly virus, comes as a welcome relief.

While other nations of the world have already taken delivery and started giving shots of the vaccine to their citizens, Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is yet to take delivery of the vaccines, not to talk of administering them.

It would be recalled that the Nigerian government had said late 2020 that a first batch of 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive the country for administration. None has arrived so far.

The procurement of the Pfizer-BioNTech has, however, become a subject of controversy as reports emerged last week that Nigeria has been disqualified from the WHO COVAX programme from which the 100,000 was expected to have come from. According to reports, the country was disqualified because of the lack of the suitable storage facilities for the vaccines.

Though the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and others have come out to deny the reports, claiming the nation has storage facilities suitable for the vaccine, Nigerians may have to wait much longer for them to get the life saving shots.

Big Numbers, Zero Vaccines

The Nigerian government has since the beginning of year 2021 bandied huge numbers, in the amount of money to be spent on vaccines, the number of vaccines to be procured and the number of Nigerians to be vaccinated against COVID-19. But all have, for now, remained mere projections.

In a report late January, the Federal Government said it was budgeting over N400 billion to procure vaccines for the country, while also projecting that about 40 percent of the population will be vaccinated between 2021 and 2022, while another 30 percent will get their shots in 2023.

As laudable as these projections appear, given the population of the country, at over 200 million, just when the vaccines will become available is the big issue, making many to wonder if the government is serious about controlling the virus.

The fears about the seriousness of government, may after all not be misplaced, as January was initially projected for its arrival but it later became February, but now it has shifted to March, 2021.

Though there are those who believe that the inability of the country to have taken delivery of COVID-19 vaccines may be due to the scramble for it, especially rich Western countries, there are many Nigerians, however, who think the country has not shown much seriousness in that regard.

A medical professional, Dotun Alade believes much of the the Nigerian government projections are just what it is, ‘projections.’

According to him, serious nations have been clearing all the vaccines available, especially the United States of America, which he said, is buying off almost every available vaccine in the market, especially the Pfizer-BioNTech ones.

“What the Nigerian government do not yet understand is that the race for COVID-19 vaccines is not just for any other kind of drugs or vaccines, neither is it for the feeble minded. There is so much politics involved and if you cannot play in the big league and play hard, you may just have to wait for hangouts from the WHO and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

“But for the the most populous nation in Africa, handouts is not what we need. I believe the Federal government should get cracking and play the game the way other countries are playing it. It is really unfortunate that South Africa has already deployed millions of doses of the vaccines when Nigeria does not have a single dose. That says so much about our seriousness”, Alade said.

Growing Concerns

Just like there are concerns over the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in different parts of the world, there are those who harbour same here in Nigeria.

The internet is replete with several conspiracy theories on not just the vaccines but the pandemic itself.

For some, the COVID-19 pandemic is an artificial creation for big pharmaceutical companies to make money and that the vaccines, which do not come cheap, is just a way to serve the purpose of the big pharmaceutical companies.

Aside the above, there are those who believe that the vaccines are actually meant for the population of the African continent, by rendering them sterile. For this set of conspiracy theorists, Africans must reject the vaccines totally.

Though one may be tempted to wave off these conspiracy theories as misinformed, a recent call by the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Abubakar Sa’ad on Nigerians to ask questions about the vaccines before they arrive the country, made waving off the concerns dangerous and inimical to successful vaccination of the Nigerian populace.

In his position as the Supreme Head of Nigerian Muslims, the Sultan said he understands there are doubts Nigerians are expressing concerning the vaccines.

The respected traditional ruler, who spoke at a COVID-19 vaccine sensitisation workshop for Islamic scholars and Imams in Abuja, advised the government not to mount pressure on Nigerians to accept the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to him, Nigerians would not be stampeded into accepting the vaccine, but that through adequate knowledge and information, they will accept it.

He said: “What we take away from this interactive session is so important, because it will help us convince the people on the need to take the COVID-19 vaccine or not. I believe we cannot force people to take vaccines.”

Acknowledging that there are conspiracy theories, the Sultan said further: “People talk of conspiracy theories such as that the COVID-19 vaccine is meant to kill us. But my take is that if a vaccine was meant to kill us, will anybody wait for the COVID-19 vaccine before killing us? We have been consuming soft drinks and other medicines that are imported into the country. If any foreigner wants to kill us, there are more than a million ways to do so.

“Indeed, the fear of reluctance, resistance or even outright rejection and opposition to the new vaccine is real and cannot be wished away. It looms large even after the government may have overcome the challenges associated with sufficient supply and efficient rollout of easy, quick and affordable access to the vaccines.

“This is simply because resistance to vaccines is rooted in factors that drive people’s behaviours including enabling environment, socio-cultural influences, motivation, ignorance, misinformation and disinformation.”

The above coming from the Sultan speaks volume about how Nigerians view the vaccine. Not even the promise of the President, his deputy and state governors taking shots of the vaccine has helped much in erasing the negative mindsets of many Nigerians towards COVID-19 vaccines.

What Nigerians Say

In a bid to feel the pulse of Nigerians on what they think about COVID-19 vaccines, DAILY POST spoke to a few people on the streets of Lagos, the epicentre of the pandemic in the country.

More than 75 percent of the respondents have their reservations about the safety of the vaccines, while more than 50 percent believes the vaccines are just for business as usual for government officials, insisting that though the pandemic may be real and ravaging other countries, same is not the case with Nigeria.

For the second group, the pandemic in Nigeria is all about money, as they claim the number positive cases being reported daily is only for those concerned to have an opportunity to loot money the more.

Asked if they shall be ready to take shots of the vaccines when they become available, about 65 percent of respondents answered in the negative, insisting they do not trust them and what the side effects maybe.

For this class, everything about the vaccines were rushed and not much due diligence was done before rollout, making it dangerous for them to take shots of the vaccines.

The sentiments expressed Above, no doubt, is a reflection of the mindset of
majority of Nigerians, who find it difficult to come to terms with the reality that COVID-19 is real and truly ravaging the globe, including Nigeria.

The Way Forward

Health professionals, who feel the sentiments being expressed by Nigerians concerning COVID-19 vaccines is dangerous, are of the view that governments at all levels must embark on immediate and vigorous public enlightenment to educate Nigerians on the effectiveness, safety and the need for the vaccines.

“Most of the sentiments and conspiracies theories people are carrying about are as a result of ignorance and the only way to curb this dangerous trend is for government to educate Nigerians on the merit of the vaccines.

“Truth is that if the vaccines arrive Nigeria today, we may find it difficult making a headway with it without proper education. Forget about the President, his Vice and the Governors taking the shots on television, the fertile Nigerian mind will find an explanation to convince himself and those around him that it was not the vaccines that had just being administered to them”, Alade, a medical professional said.

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