By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The federal government on Thursday enlisted the support of traditional rulers to help correct the doubts and misinformation being churned out about COVID-19 vaccines.
The government also said it wants to be on the same page with traditional and religious leaders so that programmes, which benefit the people, could run smoothly.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, and Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, gave the charge during the sensitisation programme on COVID-19 vaccine for Muslim scholars and Imams in Nigeria, organized by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency.
The government’s plea came barely 24 hours after the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, said that the introduction of COVID-19 vaccine should not be by force.
SGF said: “I believe that we cannot force people to take vaccine. There are myths, people talk of conspiracy theory. The vaccine is meant to kill us, there are so many videos circulating, very negative videos… The vaccines are free, we are not paying for the vaccine, it is your choice to take the vaccine.”
Mustapha told traditional and religious leaders to change the negative psyche in their subjects.
He said: “A lot of misinformation about COVID-19 is currently being circulated through various mass and traditional channels. Traditional leaders, who are custodians of the people’s culture and values, must be very discerning to guide our people aright. Please endeavour to verify any information that you cannot link to any credible source.
“This virus is no respecter of persons. It has affected every group of persons in our society including the traditional institution. This is why we must come together as one people with one voice to use our influence to promote both the non-pharmaceutical preventive measures and vaccination.
“Traditional rulers are highly reverend in our society, it is important that we leverage on this divine influence to instill in our people the sense of taking responsibility for themselves and their loved ones by wearing facemasks, observing hygiene, physical distancing avoiding large gatherings and unnecessary travels.”
On his part, Ehanire said that the federal government recognized the effort of traditional institutions towards stopping the community spread of COVID-19.
“I believe it has also not been easy for traditional leaders to explain things and provide comfort to the people in these trying times, when, despite many trials, there is yet no known cure and no sure end to the disease.
“Your Eminence, Your Highnesses, we know that as precious as these vaccines are, there are voices already expressing doubt about it, even before they arrive. Scientists around the world have calculated that, for a country to be free of COVID-19, 70 per cent of its population must be vaccinated.
“Therefore, all countries in Europe and America are rushing the vaccination programmes to meet this target. We too must meet 70 per cent to save Nigeria from COVID-19. But with doubting voices already working against the current vaccines, the Ministry of Health has concerns about getting its job done, hence this meeting to explain the nature of the vaccine to our royal fathers,” he said.