By Cosmas Omegoh and Olakunle Olafioye
Believe it. COVID-19 fire is still raging fiercely. Many are being killed. Daily infection and fatality figures are pushing up the chart, steadily maintaining their upward climb. That is the truth. Yet, many will hear none of that.
Given the startling revelations from various COVID-19 isolation camps across the country, experts advised that Nigerians must dismiss the myths and disbeliefs they still nurse about taking the vaccines
They are unhappy that people are choosing what to believe about COVID-19, particularly about the vaccines even when they are yet to arrive, discrediting it at every turn.
If you are still part of the multitude out there insisting that COVID-19 is a fluke, you need to listen to a frontline doctor at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, Lagos.
Dr Irohen Akase, wants everyone to perish all those long-held, erroneous thoughts, myths, disbelief about COVID-19, revealing that the latest wave of infections is deadlier than the first by miles.
According to him, it spreads faster, kills both the young and the old.
According to him, some of the lucky survivors are getting permanently paralysed as the virus is causing people’s limbs to be chopped off; some are increasingly losing their power to smell after recovery just as some can no longer concentrate on anything human activity.
These new complications, he said, are now called long COVID-19, advising that the way to go is to embrace the vaccines once they arrive.
Lack of trust, disbelief fueling COVID-19
Dr Akase who begged Nigerians to simply follow the laid out Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to stay safe, believes they are just simple acts.
He is unhappy that lack of belief and trust are fueling COVID-19, identifying that to be a drawback to the battle against the pandemic.
“People not believing in the existence of COVID-19 on account of lack of trust is a big problem,” he told our reporter with a tinge of frustration.
“What that means is that there is a disconnect from what is going on.
“People should believe in the existence of COVID-19 in the country, not just for the sake of believing, but believing to take appropriate action. This is information for action; we need to be giving people the right information so that it can modify their behaviour.
“Now, we are having increasing numbers of new infections and this is just the true reflection of what is going on.
“As long as people are getting infected in the communities, it is going to be difficult to control.
“Right now, the real danger is that when people don’t believe in the existence of COVID-19, they don’t see their role and responsibility towards breaking the chain of infection. But the truth of the matter is that everyone has a role to play. What we have clearly seen is that any infection somewhere is an infection everywhere. When the infection started in China, it was looking like something happening in a faraway place. But here we are today with the virus everywhere.
“So infection somewhere is a potential infection everywhere. When people don’t believe and don’t see their role in how we can come together to end the infection, that is potentially dangerous. And what that means is that the end is not yet in sight.
Current picture of COVID-19 in Nigeria
Dr Akase said that “what we are seeing in this second wave are infections whose numbers have dwarfed what we saw in the first wave by far. Both are incomparable.
“Apart from sheer numbers, this second wave is clearly deadlier than the first, so much so that the percentage of people who are coming down with the infections is great; it is severe.
“Third, we are having far younger people coming down with the infection – unlike in the first wave when we said, ‘oh, it was the elderly people that were more infected.’ Now, we are seeing younger people – in their 20s, 30s, 40s, being infected. I mean I have seen a lot of people much younger people in the wards struggling to breathe.
“Fourth, we are seeing people who after recovering from the infection, are now having complications – we now call that long COVID – people who after recovery – from cough, cattarh, difficulty in breathing, are now having complications that are lasting longer.
“We are having people with difficulty in walking, people who can no longer walk now because their nerves have been affected.
“We had someone whose leg had to be cut off because COVID-19 caused a blood clot in his head and blocked it and his leg had to be cut off. Now, he has to live without one of his legs.
“We have people who have gone into various stages of paralysis.
“We have people who have permanently lost their sense of smell. Instead of smelling food, they smell something like engine oil or other crazy stuff.
“We have people who can no longer concentrate any more. Before now, they were doing jobs that needed a lot of concentration, but now not anymore. They are distracted and their minds are no longer at ease. While these are in the minority, they are there and you cannot tell who will develop any form of complication to a large extent.
“So, the truth of the matter is, when you talk about COVID, you cannot tell who is going to have one form of symptom or the other. The majority don’t have any form of symptom at all. Even those who have symptoms, you cannot determine who is going to do well and if they have symptoms who will recover fully and who will not.”
But that is not all. He further revealed that “now, we are seeing situations where healthcare workers are being overwhelmed. We are seeing situations whereby health care workers are under severe pressure. They are human beings too. People have been working for the past year without going on vacation. When people come on admission, they don’t want to hear that you have been working for months without any form of break. They want you to attend to them promptly. This is what we have been going through day in, day out. And you know that this is COVID. Not every health worker is trained to work in a COVID ward. Also, not everyone is courageous enough to go there and work; so the people who are working there are getting tired. That is why everybody must play their individual role in breaking the chain of this virus. People must realise that by breaking the chain of this COVID-19, the healthcare worker will not be overwhelmed and their relations will not be infected too.
“That is why if people do not understand their individual roles, they keep doing what they are doing not caring about what their actions will cause society.”
Call for personal responsibility
Dr Akase maintained that what people should be doing now are not different from what they had been asked to do in the past.
“It is nothing new,” he said, “just simple things: Don’t go out to the public without wearing your face mask.
“If you are sick, stay at home; don’t go mixing up with the people. Don’t go to parties; don’t organise parties that will attract lots of people. Wash your hands regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser always.
“It is still the same basic Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions. But we want people to observe them now with a renewed sense of responsibility. These things, simple as they seem, have a lot to do in all their ramifications in breaking the chain of COVID-19 infection.
“We are not asking people to go to the moon and do fantastic things, no, – simply commit to a sense of responsibility to break the chain of the infection.
“Nigerians must know that everyone has a role to play in this fight.
“As long as people are not willing to work to root out COVID-19 or waiting for the government to do so, our efforts will be futile. As long as people have refused to play their individual roles, we will continue to have a vicious cycle of infections.”
Why rumours about COVID-19 vaccine is spreading
At the moment, all the misinformation wrapped around COVID-19 are not helping matters, experts said.
A clinical psychologist at Baze University, Abuja, Dr David Igbokwe, believes some identified misinformation, especially about vaccines are fuel for the virus.
“People are spreading rumours about the COVID-19 vaccine because they were not informed from inception and later misinformed on the components of the vaccine.
“In addition to being misinformed about the vaccine, a lot of things surrounding it are not adding up. For instance, why were the clinical trials rushed and the vaccines hurriedly approved while we are still grappling with vaccines for another virus such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which has been ravaging humans for decades? What of vaccines for a disease like cancer? Some of these raised so many questions from the outset.
“To make matters worse, the government and leading scientists over there are not willing to pause for a moment to clear people’s doubts. Hence, mischief-makers decided to take advantage of the chaotic situation.
“The leading scientists’ seeming busyness and the lack of a clear-cut explanation by world leaders led to a type of psychological tension among people referred to as cognitive dissonance which happens when one holds two contradictory or conflicting beliefs like the government and scientists are working for our good and the opposite belief that they are also not being truthful about everything surrounding COVID-19 and its vaccine.
“With cognitive dissonance in place concerning COVID-19 and its vaccine, people began searching for truths to reduce their cognitive tension and this search led them to many theories, including conspiracy theories on the true intent of the government, leading scientists and philanthropists funding scientific researches.
“One thing that increased the rumour was people’s findings regarding statements made by world-renowned leaders of thought, captains of industries, and philanthropists on the need to reduce the world’s population.
“This search for truths, meaning, and the consequent findings of misinformation forced to fit people’s bias led to what is called confirmation bias in Psychology which is an inclination to search for and interpret information in a way that confirms one’s prior beliefs.”
He maintained that “different types of confirmation bias from the biased search for information to biased interpretation of information to biased memory recall of information brought people to the vicious cycle of misinformation about the vaccine with some people saying it has a microchip surveillance technology which is the mark of the antichrist and some saying that the messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) from the vaccine will alter or recode people’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequence and all sorts of misinformation and rumours about the vaccine, including that it causes infertility, among others. The current situation is a lesson on the need to carry people along and educate them in good time so that mischief-makers will not use the media to intentionally misinform people.
“On the impact of this disbelief and misinformation, Dr Igbokwe said: “As a result of the prevailing situation of negative news surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine, Nigerians will not be open to receive the vaccine when it is eventually brought to Nigeria – the reason being that there has not been correct information management from the outset. Let’s take, for instance, the theory that the vaccine is the mark of the beast. Nigeria is a highly religious country with over 48 per cent Christians that believe in the second coming of Christ. Vivid images of the great tribulation and the mark of the beast is prominent in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Also, many modern-day prophets have warned Christians against taking the vaccine. Hence, it will be very difficult to convince the average Christian to take the vaccine with the current negative information available concerning the vaccine.”
He noted that “one simple way of ameliorating the situation is for the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 to go back to the drawing board and return with positive information that will enable them to reverse Nigerian’s perception of the virus and the vaccine.
“How do we ameliorate the current situation of misinformation in Nigeria? One major way to change or improve the current state of misinformation concerning the COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria is by educating people through enlightenment campaigns. Although people are biased towards perpetually confirming their own beliefs, enlightenment campaigns using the principle of repeated exposure would help to change their beliefs. The campaign would be targeted at changing their understanding of the virus and the vaccine. In doing this, apart from using the various media platforms, it is important to use the religious bodies to get their followers to comply. In addition, people should be selectively exposed to media information regarding the safety of the vaccine. One thing the government should avoid is forced compliance which has psychologically been proved to induce more cognitive dissonance. Compliance should be through constructive engagement and enlightenment at the community, state and national level.”
Equally, Dr Tonde Elijah Garga, chairman, Nigeria Medical Association, Adamawa State chapter, believes that various misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine are not a good one because they have far-reaching implications as far as the dangerous effect of COVID-19 virus is concerned.
“The vaccine remains the most viable option of containing the infection. If the people do not believe in it and reject the vaccine, that implies that the infection will continue to spread and it will continue to take its toll on the citizens of this country with its attendant negative consequences. “So the implication of the people’s refusal to take the vaccine because of the misinformation cannot be quantified. I think there is need for all government agencies, traditional rulers, and indeed religious leaders to try to educate the people about the vaccine. There is nothing strange about the vaccine except the fact that some people have actually polluted the air about it. There is no difference between the COVID-19 vaccine and polio, tetanus vaccines as well as all other vaccines that people have taken in the past. It is just unfortunate that some people have chosen to peddle falsehood about the vaccine and unfortunately people are buying their lies. I want to strongly advise that they should stop the misinformation about the vaccine and people should realise that nothing is different about the COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccines people have been taking in the past. Remember that there was a similar issue in the past especially in the northern part of the country. People refused to take the polio vaccine because they were told that it had been contaminated with substances that would make it difficult for them to be able to bear children in the future. But the government set up a committee and people were sent to confirm the veracity or otherwise of the rumour. At the end of the day, that claim turned out to be false. It is not a new thing, but I think people should try to analyse whatever information they are given objectively. I want to say that those claims are unfounded and I strongly believe that when the vaccine is finally shipped into Nigeria, NAFDAC will get it and verify it to ensure that it is actually fit for human consumption before Nigerians will be vaccinated.”