By Lukman Olabiyi
Lately, vaccine hesitance has been calcifying into outright vaccine refusal. That’s partly because so many Nigerians have been fed a steady diet of misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccine risks. Many who don’t plan to get vaccinated say they fear possible side effects from the shot more than they fear COVID-19 itself.
Recently, the myths and controversy surrounding COVID-19 vaccine was the subject matter at the South West Zonal Town Hall meeting hosted by Lagos State. Both Federal Government and the six South West governors expressed sadness over the action of mischief-makers to dissuade citizens from taking the vaccine.
The governors were represented by their health commissioners. Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora and Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, represented the federal government. Traditional rulers, religious leaders and other stakeholders were also present. It was organised by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 in collaboration with National Primary Health Care Department Agency (NPHCDA).
Chief Executive Officer, NPHCDA Dr Faisal Shuaib, said: “It is sad that just as an increasing multitude of Nigerians are beginning to realise the need to protect themselves against COVID-19, we are seeing new conspiracy theories aimed at misleading the people. The most recent of these is the magnet theory, in which mischief-makers claim that COVID-19 vaccine creates magnetic field that causes metal objects to stick to vaccination site and causes the body to light up an electric bulb.
“I am glad that many independent voices have emerged on social and traditional media to counter this theory. The NPHCDA also took steps to scientifically debunk the theory in a media engagement during where we practically demonstrated that the magnet theory is fake and misleading.
“While we continue to work hard, pray and hope that many more Nigerians will understand the reality of COVID-19 and the urgent need to protect ourselves against it, we need to always seek correct and accurate information, and verify the ones people are sharing with us from reliable sources so that we may understand when mischievous people are trying to use the media to deceive us.”
Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Lagos, Mrs Folashade Jaji, regretted that the persisting rumours affected the uptake of the vaccine. She said Lagos could not afford another lockdown due to the imminent COVID-19 third wave, which he believed it can be prevented:
“I am counting on the full support of NPHCDA, the South West governors, our royal fathers, development partners and all other distinguished guests here present to ensure that we all keep sensitizing our people on the need to adhere to all the precautions and guidelines that will bring the pandemic to a full and final stop.
“I am using this occasion to call on our royal fathers, chiefs, religious leaders and elders to please continue in their efforts to fill the gaps in terms of community knowledge on benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, and to dispel false rumours about the vaccine.
“We must get our neighbourhoods and communities to own the vaccination campaign, and the entire fight against coronavirus. We can and must win this battle, and it starts with collaboration and partnership.”
State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, disclosed that that the state’s testing figures are going up slightly, adding that it was also expected that a lot of people are coming back from Europe especially the young children and this new variants are circulating, because of the summer season: “About a week ago we were diagnosing 30 new cases a day. It gradually went up to 60, 80, and it went just above 100. It has remained above 100 every day for the past four or five days. We are engaging in an aggressive attack of the virus as directed by the governor.
“All the new cases admitted in Lagos none of the people, looking at their history are people who have not been vaccinated. It is not scientific, robust evidence, but it is an indication. The early indication shows that those not vaccinated are the once catching the virus.
“The Federal Government is expecting some consignment of millions of vaccines. Lagos will be prioritised because the state has experienced evidences of the third wave of the pandemic, especially with the increase in the number of cases in recent days.”
Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lagos State, Rev. Stephen Adegbite, said: “As Christians, we believe God allows us to use God given ability to develop treatments and vaccines to overcome diseases.
“This is a way to love God and participates in God’s redemptive work of the world. As Christians we are called to love our neighbours. When we take vaccine, we are not only protecting ourselves, we have also built immunity in our communities, so that others are protected, as well. I implore you all to take the vaccine to protect ourselves and our communities.”
Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi and Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, represented at the meeting, said the vaccines were subjected to verification and test by the National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). They implored Nigerians to disregard fake news on vaccines to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Iyaloja General of Lagos State, Folasade Tinubu-Ojo and other market leaders pledged to take messages to their various markets to check the spread of the fake news and encourage people to get vaccinated.
Mamora and Nwajiuba pleaded with Nigerians not to toy with their safety and get vaccinated. They disclosed that government received communication for the delivery of the following vaccine shipments in the coming months; 3,924,000 doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca by end of July or early August 2021 from the COVAX facility; 4,000,080 doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in August from the COVAX facility donated by the United States Government; 3,577,860 doses of Pfizer-Bio-N Tech COVID-19 vaccine in Q3 from the COVAX facility and 29,850,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson (Jassen) COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September, that will arrive in batches from the African Union Commission.