By Chioma Obinna

News of the death of Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari, came to most Nigerians as a rude shock. More confounding was the report that such a high profile stakeholder  that was so close to the president, had died of COVID-19 complications.Abba Kyari was not alone. Many notable Nigerians including a former governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Lagos State, Dr Dominic Adegbola to mention a few, died from the dreaded disease.The deaths of these top politicians and captains of industry has authenticated the fact that COVID-19 has no boundaries. The deaths of these Nigerians is just a part of the deluge of any victims of the pandemic that has claimed 2,588 lives in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory as of 10th of September, 2021.Good Health Weekly findings show that the pandemic has closed the risk gap between the privileged and less privileged.According to the World Health Organisations, WHO, vaccines are key in reducing the spread of the coronavirus infections and attaining herd immunity.Despite these realities, vaccine apathy, misconceptions and lack of awareness have been the order of day. But experts say there is need for Nigerians to understand the reality that COVID-19 kills, regardless of status.Today, 198,239 cases have been confirmed recorded in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.   Lagos remains the epicentre with a total of 74,771 and 652 deaths followed by the FCT with 20,849 and 178 deaths.  Third, in line is Rivers State with 11,320 cases and 138 deaths as of 10th September 2021.According to WHO, COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Most people infected with the virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. However, some will become seriously ill and require medical attention. Why vaccination is key Today, if you have not experienced COVID-19 you may know a relative who either died of the disease or is currently battling with the disease.

It is almost becoming the disease of the moment. The disease is said to be more severe in people with comorbidities. 

According to a study carried out in Lagos, people with co-morbidities are associated with a high risk of death from the pandemic. 

Unfortunately, there have been so many myths and conspiracy theories around the pandemic and its vaccines.    One common myth is that people with health issues such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and HIV cannot receive the vaccine to avoid blood clotting.   There have also been stories on 5G, how the vaccines are unsafe because it was developed so quickly, that it alters DNA and that the vaccine causes infertility in women among others.  

This may not be unconnected with the low turnout people at the Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospital, Kano, AKTH, vaccination centre where only 245 persons have been vaccinated on the 13th day of the exercise, according to the Social Mobiliser of the Centre, Abass Ibrahim.

Experts speak

Experts have dismissed these claims but many Nigerians remain hesitant  taking the vaccines. According to an immunopharmacology expert, Dr Murtala Jibril argued that the earlier people get vaccinated the better.   

Jibril who spoke in Kano during a 2–day media dialogue on COVID-19 vaccine campaign organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the Child Rights Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information, CRIB, explained that more Nigerians getting vaccination earlier and faster would reduce further spread of the virus and in turn reduce the formation of more variants of the virus.Jibril, from the Immunology/Vaccine Development Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics Bayero University Kano said Nigeria has among the best vaccines against COVID-19, and that studies have shown that not less than three million lives are saved annually in the world with vaccines.

“The vaccines are absolutely safe.  They are not the whole pathogen vaccines, but a component of the virus called spike proteins. Taking the vaccines will not get you infected, rather protect you.”Debunking myths that the vaccine tampers with the DNA, he said: “These vaccines cannot tamper with an individual’s DNA because the DNA and RNA are not even in a similar compartment.  It is like you have somebody opening your house and somebody is in your living room.  And somebody is in the kitchen and you are saying that somebody in the kitchen will infect somebody in the living room.“The DNA and RNA are not in the same compartment. The COVID vaccine cannot alter our DNA and it is only the RNA that is being administered.   And it  is the RNA that  carries the genetic information  or the blueprint it ultimately translated by our body to produce the spike protein and it is the spike protein  that will now stimulate the immune response and develop antibodies  that protect us against the virus. “Another misconception is that people think that when you get vaccinated it can cause infertility in women.   It is not true. There is no similarity between the spike protein and the syncytin protein.  We don’t have what is tagged cross immunogenicity.  Getting vaccination with the vaccine cannot produce the antibodies that will attack the syncytin protein. “Another issue is the nanoparticles.  People said there is nanorobots in the bottles.   It is not true.  What they are talking about is the liquid Nanoparticle; it is just a chemical that is used to contain the RNA that is being administered as a vaccine.“If you did not protect the RNA before you inject it into our body, the body will instantly destroy the RNA before it produces the required immune response.  So there is nothing like nanorobot, it is liquid nanoparticles which is a common chemical available even in Paracetamol, Ibuprofen and many other drugs we use frequently.On whether people with serious health conditions can take COVID vaccines, Jibril advised that people with serious health conditions that are not stable should be treated and can be given vaccines when they are stable.He said for people with a stable patient or any form of the disease that depletes the immunity like HIV, cancer, lung diseases, and patients on certain immune suppressive disease  treatment must be prioritise from vaccination.Jibril said people with such illness have higher risk of dying, higher risk of getting the virus, than  healthy individuals, adding that, “That is why in developed places like US, approved a booster which is like a half dose for individuals with immune-suppressor like cancer, HIV,  and other individuals. And they should get the vaccines before other individuals but people that are very sick should get treatment before they are given the vaccines.”Why vaccination is keyAll COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria are safe because the  vaccines   are not whole pathogen vaccines, not live attenuated but a sort of nucleate acid-based vaccines. “They are RNA that teaches our body to produce spike protein that is injected as a form of vaccines. And it is our body that will translate that RNA into a spike protein and thereby when our body comes in contact with the actual virus  it already  has the antibodies which is like the soldiers that will protect  the actual infection from causing any harm,” he explained.Meanwhile, a study published by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention  has shown that  people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 were 11 times more likely to die of the disease and 10 times more likely to be hospitalised.The study also revealed that fully vaccinated persons have a lower risk of being hospitalised or dying from Covid-19.Corroborating these views, UNICEF’s WASH Manager, Rafid Aziz who represented the UNICEF Chief Of Office, Kano, stated that vaccines may not give 100 per cent protection but it will save people’s lives.Aziz stressed the need to have more Nigerians vaccinated, According to him, “it is important to get more people vaccinated as these vaccines being given free came at a cost and should not be wasted.On his part, Vice-Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State, Umaru A. Pate charged the media to debunk rumours and conspiracy theories around COPVID-19 as Nigerian  communities are highly vulnerable to believing fake information and even more on the sources and prevalence of the virus and its treatment.

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