Inside the Anti-vaccine Campaign

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SimonKolawolelive By Simon-Kolawole, Email: simon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com, sms: 0805 500 1961

SIMONKOLAWOLE! BY SIMON KOLAWOLE

I had a good laugh when I read the reply to an anti-vaccine tweet by a lady wearing medicated glasses. She had declared: “You CANNOT have FAITH in God and still take this vaccine. If you take the vaccine that means you do not have faith in the Most High. Simple.” In jest, someone replied: “You CANNOT have FAITH in God and still wear recommended eye glasses. If you wear eye glasses that means you do not have faith in the Most High simple.” I enjoyed it so much that I screenshot the conversation and used it on my WhatsApp status. The anti-vax lady must have taken BCG, polio, diphtheria, measles and HPV vaccines before – but it is only the Covid jab that shows lack of faith!

The lady is just one of the several millions of African sceptics who are vigorously promoting the anti-vax sentiments. Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the governor of Kogi state, launched a full-blown attack on the Covid-19 vaccine recently, saying “it is meant to kill us”. He made reference to the 1996 illegal and tragic drug trial by Pfizer in Kano. He wondered why “they” are yet to find a vaccine against headache, cancer, Ebola and malaria but “they” have “quickly” found one against Covid. Bello, who is trying to make a name as a Covid conspiracy theorist, was promptly rebuked by his governor colleagues, who fear such statements could hamper efforts to tackle the pandemic in Nigeria.

I have tried to analyse and understand the anti-vax sentiments in Africa since the Covid outbreak. I have so far identified three tendencies. There could be more. The first is “religious”, the second “political” and the third “scientific”. Our beloved lady in medicated glasses was advancing a religious position. There are Christians who don’t accept medications. They see it as a sign of lack of faith in God. Many have died prematurely as a result. However, in trying to win her Twitter argument when the religious tone came under attack, she went “scientific”, listing the side effects of Covid vaccines. She also went “political”, citing the scandalous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in America decades ago.

The “religious” anti-vaxxers have a major central theory: that Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, wants to plant “trackable microchips” in humans through vaccination. He will then take control of our mental faculties, give us a code and turn us into zombies. This fits perfectly into the apocalyptic thesis of some evangelical Christians. For this reason, many Christians will not go anywhere near the vaccine – although, like our beloved Twitter lady, they will still take other vaccines and medicines. It would appear it is only the Covid vaccine that the anti-Christ can use. He is incapable of planting microchips through vaccines for hepatitis and medications for high blood pressure, aches and pains.

Of course, this is not about common sense. If it is, how can anyone think China and Russia will allow Gates, an American, plant microchips through their vaccines? But conspiracy theories do not need to be logical to be popular. It is an appeal to the emotions. In March 2020, Gates had said that, eventually, the world will have “some digital certificates” to show “who’d recovered, been tested and ultimately who received a vaccine”. That was the origin of the story that he wants to plant microchips in humans through vaccines, even though “digital certificates” are not that different from your ATM card or e-passport. In Nigeria, we still use the hand-written immunisation cards.

It also helps the theorists that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding research into vaccines; it wouldn’t count that there are several bodies also contributing, including the Dollywood Foundation, chaired by the legendary country singer, Dolly Parton. Gates and Aliko Dangote, the Nigerian billionaire businessman, did an enormous amount of work and spent an incredible amount of money to tackle wild polio in Nigeria. Gates is also doing massive work against malaria across Africa, spending his personal fortune. Our pastors will not lift a finger against polio or malaria but would rather pile up private jets and demonise those trying to help Africans solve their problems.

What these people don’t know is that they are already being “controlled” by the “anti-Christ”. If they use a laptop, they probably use Microsoft Windows OS. They probably use Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point. Gates owns Microsoft! Surprise! They have surrendered their biometrics while applying for visas to the US, UK and EU. They have provided their biometrics for BVN, NIN, passport, driver’s licence and SIM registration. Their locations are trackable via GPS on their mobile phones. And so on. Maybe they don’t know, but they might have embraced the “anti-Christ” already if their theology is right. But it is vaccines that will save millions of lives that they are crying over.

Governor Bello leans more towards the “political”. He does not even wear a face mask, except he is visiting the president. His stand is confusing. He says things that make you think he does not believe the novel coronavirus exists. Other times, he makes you believe he thinks it exists but it is not in Kogi state. He even said he had an app that remotely diagnoses Covid. Rumour mongers said marabouts had been mobilised to pray that Kogi would be Covid-free. Hence, Bello’s policy of not testing anyone and coming down heavily on anybody who claims to be infected. The family of the chief imam of Kabba, whose infection was confirmed in Abuja, had to publicly deny the diagnosis.

The “political” wing of the anti-vax movement alleges that Western countries are plotting to harm black people. Exhibit No 1: the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the US. Two US agencies, partnering with the Tuskegee University, studied untreated syphilis in African-American men from 1932 to 1972. The 600 “volunteers” were not informed of the study. They were tricked by “free” health care. The 399 volunteers diagnosed with syphilis were neither informed nor treated. The study was to see the natural progression. It was condemned as racist and unethical. And 89 years later, it’s being used as a reason Africans should reject the Covid vaccine – but they can take HPV.

Exhibit No 2: In 1996, Pfizer trialled a new antibiotic, Trovan, in Kano state amidst Africa’s worst meningitis outbreak that claimed 12,000 lives. Pfizer used a standard dose of Trovan for 100 children but reduced the dose of a rival antibiotic, ceftriaxone, for the second group of 100. Pfizer was accused of trying to rig the trial in favour of Trovan. Five children who took Trovan died, as did six who took ceftriaxone. Pfizer argued that the children died of meningitis, not from the drugs. As it turned out, they did not get proper approvals for human trial and did not get the consent of the parents. Pfizer paid heavily for it: $175,000 each to four affected families and $16 million to the Nigerian lawyers. Now, that’s why we should reject Covid jab – but still take Pfizer’s Flagyl.

Exhibit No 3: A Facebook post says packs of Remdesivir and Covifor “vaccines” marked as “not for distribution in US, Canada or EU” are meant to harm Africans. Remdesivir and Covifor are not even vaccines. They are treatments. And labelling products for specific regions is not new — it is to prevent diversion. Usually, some drug patents are subsidised for low-income regions. However, some merchants of greed divert them to US and EU markets in order to profiteer. That is why some products, not just drugs, are marked “not for sale” in certain countries. But, well, that is one of the reasons Africans have been told to reject Remdesivir “vaccine” – but they can take Viagra.

The “scientific” sentiment against the vaccine is not built on conspiracy theories per se. There are rational fears over its safety because of how the development was accelerated. Typically, vaccines are perfected over roughly 10 years. But the devastation brought by Covid has led to speedy trials and production. We cannot wait till 2030 for the “perfect” vaccine. We are, therefore, practically in the lab with the scientists and seeing their underbellies. The data that should be made available to us in another five years — such as the percentage of those who experienced serious side effects — are now available in real time. That is, understandably, why many people have reservations.

My conclusion is fairly straightforward: instead of spraying conspiracy theories all over the place, we should simply develop our own vaccines. There is no law against it. We shamelessly make it look like it is the duty of the West to solve our problems. No, it is not. In fact, while we are busy grumbling, they are busy vaccinating their own citizens. We are not even on their agenda. The UK has vaccinated over 10 million; the US, roughly 40 million doses; and Israel, over 25 percent of its people. Here we are thinking they have nothing else to do than scheme to vaccinate us. We think they are waiting for us or begging us to take their vaccines. In truth, they are more concerned about saving the lives of their own citizens. Whether or not we get vaccinated is our headache, not theirs.

Bello wondered why “they” have not made vaccines for “headache, cancer and malaria” but now have one for Covid. For one, vaccines are for pathogens: micro-organisms that can cause a disease. Headache is not a disease. Also, there have been several unsuccessful trials of malaria and AIDS vaccines. Micro-organisms are not the same. Some have the ability to evade the immune system. But if Africans love their lives so much as they claim, why don’t they produce their own vaccines? While Bello is peddling ignorance around, you can bet his own children have taken vaccines against polio, tuberculosis etc. But, you see, it is only the Covid vaccine that can kill “us”. Ludicrous.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

HERD QUESTION
Ethnic tensions have been on the rise following attacks on herders in southern Nigeria, particularly the south-west. It would appear every herder is now being made to pay for the crimes of the kidnappers and rapists, leading to allegations of genocide. I feel so sad, particularly because things did not need to come to this. Without any questions, the heinous crimes have gone on for too long with the security agencies failing to tackle them. But can chasing away or attacking every Fulani in sight solve the problem? Even if the Yoruba actualise their much-beloved “true federalism” republic today, foreigners will still live among them. After all, Yoruba live in other countries. Caution.

DNA DISASTER
The DNA crisis has claimed another victim. Justice Anthony Ezonfade Okorodas, a judge of the Delta state high court, issued an unprecedented statement announcing that DNA tests have revealed that he is not the biological father of all the three children from his ex-wife. Luckily, he said tests confirmed he is the father of the children from his current wife. I worry about the impact of this on the children from the first marriage; not just the trauma of knowing that their mum allegedly played away but also having to deal with the stigma. But, pardon my impudence, how did Justice Okorodas play for so many years without scoring only for a substitute to score all the three goals? Foul!

CONGRATS, NOI
When Nigeria withdrew its candidate for the WTO DG and replaced him with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, two-time minister of finance, the word on Twitter was that it was US President Donald Trump that nominated her. It must have come as an unpleasant surprise to them that after Okonjo-Iweala had secured the votes of 110 out of 164 countries, Trump blocked her, opting for South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee who got only 54 backers. With Trump and Yoo now gone, new US President Joe Biden has endorsed Okonjo-Iweala. In the end, this was a hard-fought victory for Okonjo-Iweala, who had to acquire American citizenship along the line to boost her chances. Congratulations!

GOOD NIGHT, MOMOH
Prince Tony Momoh, who died at 81 on Monday, was an authentic journalism icon. He was a foundation student of the mass comm department of the University of Lagos, where I was trained decades later. He edited Daily Times in the 1980s; it was one of the most prestigious newspapers at the time. He later studied law – an increasingly common path for many journalism products these days. Many remember him for being minister of information under Gen Ibrahim Babandiga and for his fights with Comrade Niyi Oniororo over whose idea Momoh’s regular “Letter to My Countrymen” was. Many remember him as a staunch Buharist. I remember him as a journalism great. Adios.