By Joseph Erunke

ABUJA–THE World Health Organization,WHO, has hailed reporters for creating massive awareness on the need for citizens to embrace COVID-19 vaccination, saying the support of reporters changed the narrative on the vaccine hesitancy.

The global health body, through its office in Nigeria,said the tiredness efforts of reporters which made citizens to embrace the vaccines were commendable.

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Speaking at a two-day annual conference for health reporters by  the Association of Nigeria Health Journalists,ANHEJ, in Abuja,WHO’s Nigeria Communication Officer, Charity Warigon, insisted that journalists covering health beats proved their mettle in their reportage by helping people make informed decisions and positive choices to promote their health.

Warigon said the theme of the conference, “Improving Confidence in COVID-19 Vaccine in Nigeria Beyond 2021: The Role the Media” was not only timely but also apt, as according to her,”it did not only speak for the presence but also to the future of making Nigerians healthier.”

However, Warigon said, “Journalists can only improve on what we have achieved so far and even do better, as there is so much to attain in driving confidence in the vaccination effort by building trust and continuously being a trusted and reliable source.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic, unlike any pandemic in history, has affected everyone and every country in a manner unexpected, although there had been calls and available support to nations to build their health systems and security in preparation for future outbreaks.

“In the earlier phases of the pandemic, there was the absence of sufficient knowledge to inform the development of vaccines as the sciences were limited, which were exploited by mischief makers, through what we call, infodemics,”she said 

Continuing,she said:”If we are to build and/or maintain trust, this noble group and profession are one out of a few that have historically been proven to be trusted to provide information that shapes the behaviour and lives of generations of peoples the world over”.

“The media and journalists are the bridge between scientists and the public. It behoves every member of the Fourth Realm of the Estate to, as social responsibility, ensure the provision of accurate, timely, credible, understandable, relevant, and actionable information through various communication channels.

“Our messaging must continue to remind the public that, for the foreseeable future, we must continue to wear masks, physically distance, and avoid the crowd. Being vaccinated doesn’t mean that we can throw caution to the wind and put ourselves and others at risk: relaxing public health and social measures interventions should be done cautiously and with careful attention paid to those who remain unvaccinated”,she added.

“On its part, WHO remains resolute in sustaining this mutually beneficial partnership with AHNEJ, towards promoting health and wellbeing, keeping the world safe and serving the vulnerable, to achieve Universal Health Coverage and ensure that no one is left behind,” she further said.

In his remark, Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists,NUJ, FCT Chapter, Comrade Emmanuel Ogbeche, lamented that the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency,NPHCDA, and Nigeria Center for Disease Control,NCDC, which he noted,were supposed to drive the conference were not actively involved but left it for international organisations.

 Ogbeche,who regretted that in spite of the effects of the pandemic, there was vaccine resistance in Nigeria, attributed the development to religious, ethnic and political factors.

Charging  journalists to work the talk, he said,We must be seen to believe what we preach as this will encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Also, in his remarks, ANHEJ Board Chairman, Godwin Odemijie, charged journalists to focus on issues of mental health, stressing that, “this is affecting many people now.”

He  called on journalists to do more investigative and human- angle stories to stem the tides of mental health issues. 

Earlier, in his welcome address, the President of ANHEJ, Hassan Zaggi, called on the federal government to be open with information journalists can easily carry out their assignments.

The conference,he explained,was aimed at equipping health journalists in Abuja on necessary strategies to convince Nigerians to embrace COVID-19 vaccination.

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