With the arrival of an initial 3.94 million doses of the anti-COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine from India, on March 2, why are some Nigerians still leery of the jab, even after the President, his deputy and many others had taken it? Louis Achi asks
“This is a time for facts, not fear. This is a time for rationality, not rumours. This is a time for solidarity, not stigma.”
––Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General WHO.
It’s important scientifically and comforting to know that vaccinated people are a lot less likely to get sick in the first place. One hundred million vaccinated Nigerians will mean 100 million people with much less (or hardly any) risk for any symptomatic COVID-19 especially, severe disease. That would represent an enormous gain.
Unlike most medicines, which treat or cure human diseases, vaccines prevent them. This is what makes vaccines such powerful medicine. From basic biology, a vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if one were exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, immunity is developed to that disease, without having to get the disease first.
More, it has been scientifically established that vaccines represent the ultimate biological weapon for caging COVID-19 and its emerging mutants. More recent human history attests to this.
It is at this juncture that the help of theological leaders, who are powerful opinion moulders needs to be enlisted. Significantly, much of the opposition to vaccination flows from this arena. There has been a laundry list of antipathy and objections against vaccination but not backed by knowledge being purveyed by surprisingly educated folks. This scenario has unfortunately fed the conspiracy theories against COVID-19 vaccinations.
But looking at the big picture of the COVID-19 pandemic that has prostrated the globe, panic or fear is hardly the appropriate survival response. This is where the federal and state governments, policy formulators and local health agencies take the centre stage – from public education, vaccine development or sourcing and delivery, to strict enforcement of relevant protocols become priority.
According to Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES
“No vaccine in human history has had to contend with massive disinformation and conspiracy theories as that of COVID-19.
“The vaccine, we were told, would be designed to implant a chip to take over our genes and turn us into robots for Mr. Bill Gates, make Africans infertile, kill us through blood clots, ensure we serve the mission of the devil and hurry us to hell. Maybe it is a wonder that some people are ready to take the vaccine. Having carefully studied all the disinformation and found them to be false, be like me, take it when it is your turn.”
The 3.94 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine now delivered to the country, secured from India, courtesy of the Covax Facility, is part of an overall 16 million doses planned to be delivered to Nigeria in batches.
While many Nigerians have availed themselves of the opportunity of taking the vaccine jab to ensure the best protection against COVID-19 pandemic, many others are sitting on the fence,
Appreciating some section of the public’s genuine scepticism about the new vaccine and their resistance, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha waded frontally into the task of reversing such perceptions even before the vaccine made landfall.
Noted Jibrin, “The PTF has been messaging constantly to counter the negative perceptions of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and to inform that it has no adverse effect on recipients. The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, which has direct responsibility for administering the vaccine, has also been engaged in sensitisation and awareness programmes to correct negative perceptions. At the beginning of the second week of March, most states had received their doses.”
Good a thing, the World Health Organisation (WHO), has reacted quickly to the issue, noting that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its possible risks.
Last week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) ruled they had not found any link between the vaccine and blood clots, and that it was safe and effective.
While receiving her vaccination in Abuja penultimate week, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, Nigeria’s Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), clarified that the agency went through the imperative investigations immediately it got the dossier of the vaccine before it approved it to be administered on Nigerians for the prevention of COVID-19.
Almost three weeks after the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, some states are yet to begin vaccination. These include Oyo, Yobe, Cross River and Kogi States. Some governors are also yet to publicly take the vaccine, in spite of the fact that at the March 4 Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) meeting, they all resolved to take the vaccine publicly on March 10 with their deputies and to roll out the vaccine immediately thereafter in their states. This cagey body language largely switches off their constituents from taking the jab.
Concerning the issue of safety, two versions of the vaccine – produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea) and the Serum Institute of India – have been listed for emergency use by WHO. When the vaccine underwent SAGE consideration, it had undergone review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The EMA has thoroughly assessed the data on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine and has recommended granting a conditional marketing authorisation. The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, a group of experts that provides independent and authoritative guidance to the WHO on the topic of safe vaccine use, receives and assesses reports of suspected safety events of potentially international impact.
On how efficacious the AZD1222 vaccine is against COVID-19, the EMA claimed it has an efficacy of 63.09% against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. Longer dose intervals within the 8 to 12 weeks range are associated with greater vaccine efficacy.
With little question, a jab in time saves nine.