By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
In Nigeria, the story of Covid -19 vaccination vary across board. While some people have taken the vaccine and have received their booster jabs, many others are refusing to be vaccinated, to the extent of buying vaccination card.
Worried by the divergent views available in the country; even amongst health officials, our reporter set out to jaw-jaw with various people considering the discouraging number of those vaccinated.
According to Our World in Data, the number of fully vaccinated people in Nigeria stands at 5.45 million, with 20.6 million doses given so far.
But out of this number, our investigation revealed that unknown number bought the vaccination card from various Covid-19 vaccination centres.
Mrs. Jane Abubakar (not real name) told our reporter that she bought the vaccination card to be free from humiliation by authorities.
“I know a lot of people who bought the vaccination card. I personally do not believe in this Covid-19 story being spread in the country, that was why I bought my own card.”
Jane who is also an activist on sickle cell in the country said many health workers share the same view with her.
“Also, many Nigerians are rejecting the Covid 19 vaccine because of the uncertainties that came with it and the conspiracy theories the world believes to be associated with the vaccine.
“Secondly, part of the reason for the rejection is the inadequate awareness on the safety of the vaccine. It is important to know that any vaccine that emanates from the Western world is portrayed as a way of controlling Africa’s population.
“Thirdly, even in some parts of the Western world, deaths ware recorded from taking the vaccine as well as other health related issues the vaccine is associated with.
“Fourthly, the said vaccines are said not to have gone through proper scientific verification process to accertain its effectiveness and safety perhaps, because of the suddent appearance of the disease and the manner it was ravaging the world.
“Fifthly, it has been commercialized all over the world as a lot of funds was fraudulently budgeted which made it look like a scam in the eye of the world.
“Sixthly, some well known leaders rejected it. Leaders like Bill Gates turned around to denouce the vaccine as more dangerouse than the Corona itself. Even in Nigeria, some Governors like Kogi state Governor Yahya Bello and the Cross River State Governor, Nyesom Wike, all turned it down and prevented the vaccine from being delivered into their states and called it a scam. Fortunately, we did not see people dying in those states. Even the producers of the vaccines said it is not an absolute prevention from Corona but a paliative measure. Lastly, some people who have taken one or both jabs were found to be infected.
“Based on these, no one can convince me to take the vaccine. I decided to buy the card to be free from any humiliation. I also know of top people in government who are championing the campaign but refused vaccination; who is fooling who?
Another civil servant who does not want her name in print for fear of victimization, told our reporter that she got the card for free from a friend.
“On 17th January, we were locked out from our offices because we did not take Covid-19 vaccine. We waited for hours and left when they were not ready to listen to us.
“That week I had free time to concentrate on my business. We didn’t understand why they were forcing us to take the vaccine. I believe they have something to hide that is why they are forcing people to get the vaccine.”
On how she got her vaccination card, she said she contacted various people before someone linked her with another card which was sold for 40 thousand Naira. “It is your connection that determines how much you pay. I know people who paid higher than that amount. As it stands, people pay from five thousand upwards based on who they know.
“Presently, we have resumed work with our vaccination cards. Since it is card they want to see, we will give it to them. Even some of my bosses bought their own cards. Now all of them are there pretending as if they they were vaccinated.
Also speaking, a senior public servant told our reporter that he was contacted by some persons to buy the vaccination card. He said the person promised to collect 10 thousand Naira to give him and his wife.
“ I have not collected the card yet. I am just waiting for the full enforcement to take place at my office before buying the card. I am not ready for any vaccine. If the federal government go ahead with their enforcement, I will pay for the card”.
Reacting on the Covid-19 card racketeering, Acting Head of Public Relations Unit, Remi Adeleke, said the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency is aware of the issue and is investigating several of them.
“ We have a Covid-19 task force which includes; Exective Secretaries (ES) of Primary Health Care Development Boards in all states, state Coordinators of COVID-19 prevention task teams, Department of States Service (DSS), National Agency for the Control of Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offenses Commission (ICPC). These are the people in charge of checkmating all the racketeering across the country. When they are done with their investigation, they will prosecute some of the culprits.”
On his part, Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Philip Jackpor said, “Nigerians are not taking the issue of vaccination against COVID seriously because, thankfully, and you might even say miraculously, the impacts of the virus in Nigeria and Africa have not been like Europe, US and other parts of the world.
“There were hundreds of thousands of deaths in New York, India, Brazil, Italy and many countries outside Africa. Though I am not a medical practitioner, I believe most Nigerians have had the virus and recovered within 4-5 days without even knowing or showing any serious health impacts. So Nigerians believe malaria and typhoid are even more serious and deserve more attention than COVID.
“Also, the government was hypocritical in the management of the restrictions during the first wave when ordinary Nigerians were asked to stay home without palliatives getting to them. Yet, politicians and top government functionaries were allowed to hold rallies, meetings etc and no appropriate sanctions meted out on them. These issues, among several others forced Nigerians to take a position for their own survival and wellbeing. like I said earlier, since it is very clear that malaria kills more people, typhoid kills more people and yet Nigerians survive it, it will be hard to get Nigerians to vaccinate against COVID that they clearly see as posing less threat to their lives.”
Speaking on the effectiveness of the vaccine, Pharmacist Simi Jok, said the definition of terms surrounding effectiveness of vaccine production has changed with Covid-19. “Here, we are not looking at effectiveness in terms of prevention but effectiveness in reducing severity. The statistics of Covid-19 shows that it cannot prevent someone from contacting or transmitting the virus.”
He said the ambiguity of the disease and lack of truthfulness from government and the fear factor are discouraging many Nigerians from getting vaccinated.
“Another thing is that; the pharmaceutical company that produced the vaccine will not be held accountable for any mortality. This means that anybody taking the vaccine is on his own. This practice is also contrary to the rules guiding vaccine production.
“Statistics in the UK has revealed that majority of people in the UK going to hospital were people who were vaccinated in the past. This shows that people vaccinated are more liable that those not vaccinated.”
He said government in Africa collected money for Covid vaccination and exaggerated the flu.
However, he warned that people should not be careless.
“People should keep immune system in top shot. They should take vegetable, relax, eat well, check theirselves regularly.”
Meanwhile a Medical Laboratory Expert, Longs Jesam explained that vaccines have not always been for absolute prevention of contracting or transmitting any disease that an individual is vaccinated against.
“Diseases like small pox, chicken pox, cholera still affect individuals that have been earlier vaccinated. What the vaccine does is reduce severity and in cases where contracting the disease is eminent death, such persons may just come down with fevers and other symptoms and then recover.
“But this does not take away the complexity of issues and questions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccination exercise. We understand that some steps in vaccine production were abridged or skipped, owing to the urgency of the need for the vaccine which has made people more suspicious.
“Government must guide against the use of compulsion as is already being seen in Nigeria as this move will be counterproductive, causing or strengthening already existing distrust from the populace.”
Speaking on severity of Covid-19, a Urologist encouraged men to get vaccinated, saying those affected with COVID-19 are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction.
Dr Igbokwe Martin, a Consultant Urologist and Kidney Surgeon, identified COVID-19 as a major threat to sexual function in men.
“COVID-19 is the virus that affects different parts of the body.
“The most destructive effect of the virus is the airways which affects breathing and oxygen saturation.
“This is what leads to the death and mortality that come with COVID,” he said.
Martin said that in urology, they discovered that it has effect in the male genital system, including erectile dysfunction.
“It has shown that men who contracted COVID-19 infection, especially the active part of it, have the highest instance of erectile dysfunction.
“So COVID-19 affects the body generally and part of what it does is also affecting the blood vessels that are necessary to make the penis turgid.
“Men with COVID-19 can also develop low sperm count and swollen testes. Their balls can swell up, although this is not only associated with COVID but with other viral infections.
“In UK, some patients have come with swollen testicle and when they go for test, it was discovered that they are COVID-19 positive.
“So it means that this virus has the predilection to cause inflammation and infection of the testes which is also known as orchitis.”
“But the good news is that after the men are cured of the disease, a lot of them regain their sexual function, so I encourage everyone to get vaccinated” he said.
On how the federal government should redesign its approach, Senior Programme and Partnership Officer of Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN), Doctor Obinna Onuoha said the stewardship of the health of Nigerians must come from the Government to whom all citizens have submitted their rights to be protected and catered for.
“This leadership must come from the Federal Ministry of Health.
“Since we know that vaccination is the best chance against COVID-19, then one of the ways to improve vaccination is gaining the trust and confidence of the population.
“Massive awareness and sensitisation campaigns with positive social behaviour messages that are consistent and provide as much information as possible is crucial. Just in the same a way a radio station continually plays a newly released song until people begin to like it, that is also the way we can get more people to get vaccinated when the messaging is consistent and positive. Let us make use of people influencers with good social reputation who have also taken the lead by example.
“The FMoH and all supporting departments and agencies must be accountable in their activities. For example, people who test for COVID-19 should receive their results as soon as possible and communication must be prompt on the next steps to take. You get people to test, and then you don’t give them any communication as to their status, and yet, we expect the same people to get the vaccine? This is what I mean about building trust and confidence that our health system works.
“Building the trust and confidence of Nigerians will take time, it will not happen overnight. That is why we must stay on course and be consistent”.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) in December, warned against mandatory vaccinations unless all other options have been exhausted.
Dr Hans Kluge, the Europe Director of WHO told a press conference that vaccinations should not be made mandatory “if you haven’t reached out first to the communities.
“Mandates around vaccination are an absolute last resort and only applicable when all other feasible options to improve vaccination uptake have been exhausted.”
Kluge admitted that such measures had been proven effective in some environments, to increase vaccine uptake.
However, the effect that mandating vaccination could have on public confidence and public trust, as well as vaccination uptake, must be considered.
“Ultimately, mandates should never contribute to increasing social inequalities in access to health and social services,” dr Kluge said.
While cases and deaths have more than doubled in the past two months, COVID-19 deaths have remained significantly below previous peaks. Kluge says that the mortality would have been far worse without vaccination. 55% of all people in Europe and Central Asia are fully vaccinated and 43 out of 53 countries now offer an additional booster dose to their most vulnerable populations.
Dr Kluge pointed out new research conducted by WHO Europe and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which found that from December 2020 to November 2021, at least 470,000 lives were directly saved through COVID-19 vaccination.