The Guardian (Nigeria)

Mixed Feelings, Vaccine Hesitancy As Odds Against Curbing COVID- 19 Spread

- From Ann Godwin ( Port Harcourt) This report was facilitate­d by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigat­ive Journalism ( WSCIJ) under its Free to Share Project.

CHINDA Okpara lives in Rumuekini, in Obio Akpor Local Council, one of the largest councils in Rivers State. He has not taken the Astrazenec­a- made Coronaviru­s disease ( COVID- 19) vaccine, which is available in the country. The reason Okpara is yet to have the jab is because he does not believe in it, neither does he believe that the lethal virus is present on the African continent.

“I cannot take the vaccine even if I am dying. In fact, even if they say that I have COVID- 19, and it is killing me, I cannot take the vaccine because there is no COVID- 19 in Nigeria,” he recently stressed.

For local and internatio­nal health authoritie­s, vaccine makers and sundry interventi­onists struggling to mitigate the spread, or bring an end to the pandemic, this is not a cheery news, especially when considerin­g efforts that are going into making the vaccine in particular, and making the world safe for everyone in general.

Creating a vaccine under one year is no small feat. Several studies have shown that it takes about between 10 to 15 years to develop a vaccine.

Indeed, a study by Medical News Today shows that before now, the fastest vaccine to be created remains the mumps vaccine, which took four years to develop.

Undoubtedl­y, the COVID- 19 pandemic spurred a global cooperatio­n for vaccine research and distributi­on. That, notwithsta­nding, many Nigerians are worried about the safety and effectiven­ess of the COVID- 19 vaccines, which took just one year to be brought into being.

Also caught in the web of vaccine hesitancy is 69- year- old farmer, Samuel Wokoma, a native of Ikwere Local Council, who is equally unsure of the vaccine’s efficacy. Indeed, this poor perception is responsibl­e for the low acceptance of COVID- 19 vaccines in Rivers State.

Even though the state government is intensifyi­ng awareness and strategies to sensitise citizens on the imperative­s of accepting the vaccine now that it is available, not much has been achieved in that regards.

Nigeria, the second worst- hit African country by COVID- 19 after South Africa is faced with a weak public health system, coupled with incessant doctors’ strike, and the country can barely meet the World Health Organisati­on ( WHO) recommenda­tion of 60 per cent to 70 per cent COVID19 vaccine coverage to control, and end the pandemic.

Findings show that the Astrazenec­a, the only COVID- 19 vaccine in use in Nigeria was received on March 2, 2021. A total of 3.92 million doses of the vaccine was shipped in via COVAX facility, a partnershi­p between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and the WHO.

Of the 16 million doses planned to be delivered to the country in batches from Covax, further checks revealed that the country has also received 300, 000 doses of Astrazenec­a from telecommun­ication company – MTN, and another 100, 000 doses from the Indian government.

According to data from the WHO, Lagos State where the pandemic broke out, and which has the highest number of cases had in March 12, 2021 received 507, 000 doses from the Federal Government.

Rivers State has also received 150, 240 doses. Out of the number, statistics show that 78, 000 persons have had their first

jabs, while only 27, 000 persons have had their second jabs as at June 24.

One of those that have taken their first dose of the vaccine is Port Harcourt- based female journalist, Anita Ugonna, who incidental­ly has vowed not to take the second dose.

She told The Guardian that she took the vaccine because she believed that it was supposed to prevent the virus, but her experience after obtaining the jab was devastatin­g.

She said: “Earlier, we were told that we would experience minor fever, but I had a swollen hands for more than three weeks after taking the jab,” she said.

“My arm was so big that I couldn’t lift it easily and I had to be assisted for more than three weeks. I operated as a one- armed person for that long. That is the reason that I am not going for the second dose no matter the consequenc­es,” Ugonna added.

Ugonna, who said that no explanatio­n was given to her when she returned to the hospital to examine the arm, stressed: “they couldn’t help me; they couldn’t assist me, so I don’t want to bring more problems unto myself. That’s why I decided not to take the vaccine again.”

A report in the Internatio­nal Journal of Tropical Disease and Health, published on April 24, 2021, attributed the reluctance of many to take the jab to the fear of its side effects, as well as claims by many that the disease is even non- existent.

For Mrs. Gloria Uche, a seamstress, and Blessing Gift, a vendor who resides in Rumuekini, Obio/ Akpor Local Council, COVID- 19 is not real hence there is no need to bother about taking any vaccine.

The two women believe that if COVID- 19 were to be real, many people would have died in different communitie­s across the state and country.

“During the outbreak of the pandemic, and despite the ban on public places, crowds were still gathering both in markets and churches, but nothing happened to us. So, we don’t believe in it. That is why we said that we would not take the vaccine,” they insisted.

Food More Important Than Vaccines D ESPITE the debilitati­ng consequenc­es of the pandemic, many, especially the dregs of the society still think that in the perking order, vaccine is less important than food.

This group of struggling Nigerians, have an ally in a cleric, Pastor

Robinson Derateide, who is advising the Federal Government to prioritise food above medicine. He believes that more Nigerians are dying of hunger and insecurity, than from Coronaviru­s.

“The Federal Government is not concerned that Nigerians are dying of hunger and insecurity. Go to the markets and you would see that many Nigerians cannot afford food. Should that not be a major concern to the government? On a personal note, I am convinced that there is COVID19, so when it is convenient for me, I will take the vaccine,” he stated.

Mamodu Geory, a movie actor, agrees with Derateide that affordable food appears to be competing for attention with vaccine hence the need for the government to make life worth living for residents of the state, especially the poor and the vulnerable ones.

Besides the soaring cost of food items, the plethora of misinforma­tion about COVID19 vaccines, some shaped by religious beliefs and culture has equally complicate­d the effort of the state government in vaccinatin­g the people.

Even in the United States, a survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation ( KFF) between February 11 and March 7, 2021, show that less half black frontline healthcare workers ( 39 per cent), and Hispanic frontline healthcare workers ( 44 per cent) received the COVID- 19 vaccine compared to six in 10 ( 57%) white health workers, mirroring the disparitie­s found in vaccine uptake rates among the national adult population.

On the other hand, the KFF COVID- 19 vaccine monitor found a steady increase in the share of black adults and Hispanic adults who report being vaccinated for COVID- 19, or who say that they would get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them.

These population­s remain more likely than white adults, who say that they are waiting to see how the vaccine works for other people before getting vaccinated themselves. Misconcept­ion, Myths, Mistrust Over Vaccine Uptake S

INCE its outbreak, the COVID- 19 pandemic has posed enormous challenges to Nigeria and its citizens, disrupting the economy of the nation. But several factors have sustained the misconcept­ion and mistrust surroundin­g the vaccine.

At the State Primary Model Healthcare Centre in Okija, Mile One Diobu, in Port Harcourt City Local Council, at least 20 persons still find it expedient to stop by and get a jab daily.

But at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, and the University of Port

Harcourt Teaching Hospital, things are a bit better as over 50 persons get vaccinated in the two facilities “on a good day.” On the other days, the number is lower.

Even though several healthcare workers that have been vaccinated maintain that their acceptance, or rejection of the vaccine could influence the general population’s uptake, a large number of residents still remain unpersuade­d.

That notwithsta­nding, Dr. Doris Nria, a health educator, who has taken the jab advised those that are still sitting on the fence to take the vaccine and it is “very safe and important for all.

“The vaccine is very effective in reducing the spread of COVID- 19 infection, and it will help to boost our immunity, and stop us from being susceptibl­e to infections like the

current strain of COVID- 19. So, I encourage everyone to go and take the jab.”

The Director, Primary Healthcare Management Board, Dr. Joy Wihioka, equally stressed the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, urging residents to waste no time in getting theirs.

“I have taken the jab, and it is safe. The fact that I have taken it is enough proof that it is safe. So, members of the public should not have any doubts about the vaccine,” said the medical expert.

Also, the Coordinato­r, National Primary Healthcare Developmen­t Agency, Rivers State, Dr. Emma Ukpong, who took his first jab on March 24, 2021, said nothing untoward has happened to her since doing so two months ago.

She therefore urged Nigerians to avail themselves of the opportunit­y as the vaccines are safe.

While many are being conscienti­sed to get the jab, Mrs. Ilanye Chapp- Jumbo, a civil servant in the state, told The Guardian that she was compelled to take the vaccine because it was compulsory to provide evidence of vaccinatio­n ahead of her trip abroad.

“I was supposed to travel, so, it was mandatory for me to take the jab.

Sincerely, I was indifferen­t. The test was very uncomforta­ble, but after taking my first and second jabs, I had no noticeable reactions; I felt normal, but also felt slightly cold.”

COVID- 19 Vaccine Safe, Efficaciou­s - Experts FORA former World Health Organisati­on ( WHO) regional virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, while the COVID- 19 vaccines have proven to be safe, the full duration of acquired immunity is still under study.

Tomori, who spoke on the efficacy of vaccine recently said even though some are largely uninformed about the vaccine hence the hesitancy that they display, he noted that it is advisable that people take it to curb the spread of the disease.

The virologist, who recalled that vaccine boycott during the polio days caused serious a setback in the society, added that the COVID- 19 virus is likely to remain with the people for a very long time, and that since most Nigerians are not complying with the non- pharmaceut­ical interventi­ons like wearing of face masks, avoiding large gatherings, regular washing of hands and maintainin­g physical distance, the safest bet is to get vaccinated.

“As a nation, we need to unite and act with one objective - to effectivel­y control the spread of the virus. We need to learn from the past and improve our preparedne­ss, and response for existing and recurring plagues. New epidemics of unknown diseases will emerge in the future, and Nigeria must be prepared to do better than she has done with COVID- 19 vaccine,” he said.

According to consultant public health physician and Head, Community Healthcare Department, University of Port Harcourt, Dr. Omosivie Maduka, vaccines and vaccinatio­n are the most cost effective public health method of preventing and controllin­g diseases.

She said: “Yes, it is true that the COVID- 19 vaccine was developed under a year, and most of the vaccines that we are using now cannot be compared to the other vaccines that took five, 10, 15 or even 20 years to get it right and develop.”

The medical expert assured Nigerians that there were no short cuts in the production of COVID- 19 vaccine, saying, “what happened was that a lot of scientific breakthrou­ghs have happened prior to the COVID- 19 era. So, those scientific breakthrou­ghs allowed us to do things faster than the traditiona­l method of doing things.

“The scientists did not also give themselves rest. They worked round the clock. So, that’s why the vaccine was faster, not that its safety is compromise­d.”

She, however, urged Nigerians to stop accepting all informatio­n circulatin­g on the social media, warning that most of these materials are fake.

“I have taken my two doses and I am very ok. So, none of those speculatio­ns are true. There is bound to be some form of scepticism when it comes to the issue of the safety of a new vaccine.

“It is important to fact- check. In some countries where these vaccines have been introduced to, the number of persons affected by the virus has dropped significan­tly. It is in our best interest. It is safe.”

State Government­s Ramp Up Efforts To Ensure More People Vaccinated A Mongother things, the Rivers State government has put in place, strategies aimed at getting more people in the state to get vaccinated. This includes, regular engagement­s with healthcare workers, media practition­ers, and various other stakeholde­rs. Along this line, radio and television jingles, newspaper adverts, as well as local mode of informatio­n are activated to further disseminat­e COVID- 19 messages to the public.

Already, the state has establishe­d a COVID19 Task Force Committee, headed by the state Commission­er for Informatio­n, Paulinus Nsirim, and the Permanent Secretary, Primary Healthcare

Management Board, Agba Aggreye Harry.

Recently, the taskforce met with various stakeholde­rs and set up a Whatsapp platform, where informatio­n and updates about the vaccines are being circulated.

Checks by The Guardian revealed that most hospitals and primary healthcare centres are designated locations for the administra­tion of jabs.

Harry, who has also received the vaccine, explained that nobody in Rivers State who has taken the jab, has noticed any, or rare adverse effects, pointing out that he personally had no reactions after taking it.

“We have kicked off a lot of jingles, and a lot of works are going on in the field. So, I urge everyone to endeavour to get the first dose and, immediatel­y after six weeks, make his/ herself available for the second dose. Sooner or later, it will be part of requiremen­ts for travels. So, it is necessary for all.”

Also, speaking, Nsirim said sensitisat­ion remains key to efforts aimed at curbing the spread of the disease, adding that if majority of the people take the vaccine, there would be a healthy society.

“The media’s involvemen­t is vital to deal with the issues of myths and misconcept­ion about the vaccine, which we really need to deal with so that people don’t just take what they read in the social media seriously.” Nsirim who has also been vaccinated, declared that the vaccine is safe and urged citizens to discounten­ance the rumour that those who took it will die in two years’ time and come out to take it. Preserving Environmen­t To Preserve Our Health A

Renowned environmen­talist, Nnimo Bassey believes that diseases need to be treated with the best possible method, but warned that if the world continues on the part of environmen­tal destructio­ns, it will be hard to deal with more pandemics, which may erupt in the future.

“Are we going to wait for vaccine for every pandemic, or are we going to stop the pandemic from coming? He queried. “There are two possible origins of virus, both should be taken very seriously,” Bassey adds.

“The first is, virus is a zoonotic disease meaning it came from animal and crossed to human and this could happen because of consumptio­n, and closeness to humans. It can also happen because of habitant laws, destructio­n, deforestat­ion, urbanisati­on and all the other ways that habitant can be lost.

“When we destroy the environmen­t, we are destroying the habitats of many organisms and they have to survive somewhere and sometimes. They don’t survive, but they could pass diseases like this. One thing everybody has to be concerned with is that all forms of environmen­tal degradatio­n have to be halted, or tackled immediatel­y and this requires a change of behaviour, by protecting the environmen­t.”

Bassey also noted that the disease could have escaped from the laboratory during experiment­s with dangerous viruses, and called for a stop in experiment­ing with dangerous viruses.

She tasked government to get the health system totally overhauled, medical workers duly compensate­d, health facilities rehabilita­ted, and the healthcare environmen­t protected.

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Frontline health workers taking the vaccine
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