By Olusegun Dosunmu
As Nigeria continues to record more cases of the COVID-19 infection and few deaths on daily basis, life and economic activities in the country was gradually taking its full shape when the news of the third wave and the delta variants took the nation by storm.
For many, COVID-19 has come to stay and major stakeholders in the health sector, even the government has alluded to this, thus, the need to enforce strict adherence to the COVID-19 protocols.
I am particularly happy that Nigeria, a developing nation, did not fold her arms in search for a vaccine to curb the spread of the virus, and after months of waiting for an external intervention, the country on March 2, 2021 received nearly 4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, shipped via the COVAX Facility, a partnership between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO. The vaccine arrival marked a historic step towards the goal to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.
I can quote the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon stating that “The arrival of these vaccines in Abuja marks a milestone for the COVAX Facility in its unprecedented effort to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of 2021.” The vaccine has enabled the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to commence the vaccination of Nigerians in priority groups, starting with frontline healthcare workers and we cannot thank the international community enough for rescuing Africa, a continent that lacks the qualitative medical research to extricate Africans from the global pandemic.
Vaccine brands such as, BioNtech, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, Oxford AstraZeneca and Sputnik have been made available by the wealthy nations to support a struggling country like Nigeria but it beats me to hear the spurious conspiracy theories that have greeted the vaccine that is meant to curb the spread of a deadly virus. I have read the mixed reaction that has continued to trail the side effects of the vaccine with wide spread speculation that the intake of the vaccine is meant to depopulate African nations. What a narrative so empirically untrue.
The side effects of a vaccine that is undergoing continuous and advanced research which includes dizziness, headaches, abdominal pain, fever, dizziness and allergic reactions should not be mistaken for a chemical weapon to exterminate Africans. Nigeria is said to be polio-free today because religious leaders championed the cause for every child to be fully vaccinated and this is exactly what the government should do if it truly wants the huge Nigerian population vaccinated against Covid-19. Hearing so many convoluted versions of the vaccine’s side effects from our religious leaders means that Nigeria will face the consequences of her actions and the government needs to rein in the baseless reports in a friendly manner.
Recently, the federal government has posited to sanction any Nigerian who refuses the vaccine. According to the report, refusal by any Nigerians to take the vaccine is tantamount to endangering the lives of other. That is right but the truth is the government cannot force the people to administer a content that is shrouded in controversy into their bodies. To give full assurance that the vaccine is safe, world leaders, captains of industry and the movers and shakers of the world have all taken the vaccine. I remember watching President Buhari, Vice President Osibanjo, some state governors and other key leaders in government take the vaccine on a live telecast but that does not move a Nigerian.
The typical Nigerian wants to know what their Imams and Pastors think about the vaccine and if they have taken it.Religion, as postulated by some Nigerians as the bane of our national development should definitely be employed as the tool to drive the acceptance of the Covid-19 vaccine by the Nigerian people. Nigerians somehow trust their religious leaders than they may ever trust the government. I understand that some leading religious’ leaders have publicly spoken against some of this administration’s policies but they are the ones the government desperately needs to invite to the table for a proper sensitization of the people.
Nigeria being a highly religious country has great respect for their religious leaders, irrespective of tribe or status, and from the foregoing, it is now expedient for the federal government to partner with these religious leaders on adequately sensitizing their followers on the need to take the vaccine.
With the population explosion of the country, especially in the rural areas and the hard-to-reach communities, the religious leaders should also lead by taking the vaccine and sensitize their followers to follow suit.