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Home / Health / How social media, religious sentiments fuel COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Nigeria

How social media, religious sentiments fuel COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Nigeria

As the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit Nigeria with a fresh surge in the number of cases and deaths recorded daily, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy amongst the citizenry is increasingly becoming a worrisome development that appears to be sabotaging the government’s effort to rid the nation off the diseases.

Primary Health Centre, Ifako
Vaccination exercise at Primary Health Centre, Ifako, Lagos

Vaccines are considered as one of the greatest achievements in attaining community and global health. Vaccination represents basic public health interventions aimed to mitigate the severe epidemiological and economic burden generated by communicable disorders, thus, recognized globally as a key strategy for improving health outcomes and life expectancy.

In previous years, vaccination programmes have helped to reduce mortality and morbidity due to vaccine-preventable diseases like cholera, malaria, cholera and other diseases.

The novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is a global threat with which the entire globe is faced. Since its outbreak in Wuhan city, China in December 2019, 106,433,703 cases and 2,323,147 deaths have been recorded across 213 countries and five regions of the globe as at February 16, 2021.

Nigeria has recorded 201,294 with 2,649 deaths and 9,037 active cases.

One month after the Nigeria vaccination campaign was launched with much fanfare, the enthusiasm generated by the delivery of the first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March 2021, only a minimal percentage of the population has since then received jabs of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

While several factors could be responsible for the low stat, vaccine hesitancy amongst Nigerians has been highlighted as one of the major factors responsible for the low level of vaccination.

However, in a bid to examine the cause of COVID-19 hesitancy amongst Nigerians, EnviroNews identified and spoke with individuals who are hesitant towards taking the vaccines and health workers.

Our media visited six vaccination centres and communities in Lagos to examine factors responsible for COVID-19 hesitancy amongst Nigerians.

COVID-19 hesitancy amongst Nigerians

Nigeria is currently witnessing a surge in COVID-19 infections largely due to the refusal of many people to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines on the one hand and vaccine apathy on the other. Statistics released by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency on September 7 showed that, so far, only 3.6 million persons had received vaccines, while about 1.5 million out of this figure have completed their dosage. The implication is that less than 1.0 per cent of Nigerians are fully vaccinated.

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Anothina Saka, a resident of Ojodu Lagos, said that she was reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccine because of the scary YouTube video she watched where individuals believed to have been administered the vaccine appeared to exhibit strange reactions.

“One person that has taken the vaccine placed a bulb on his shoulder and it was lit, another person placed a key on the spot where he was administered the vaccine and the key stuck there, like the spot has magnetic properties. This means the vaccine is not safe; it is very dangerous so I will not take it,” she said.

Another individual, Waye Meshach, told EnviroNews that he has seen vaccinated individuals exhibiting strange reactions towards the vaccine. He also cited media reports on blood clot as part of the reasons he would not be taking the vaccine.

“People that have taken the vaccine fall sick. Some months back it was you same media that said that people are dying of blood clots so you expect me to take the vaccine? No, I will not,” he said.

He however asked the government to turn to local medication instead of using vaccines he claimed are not safe.

On her part Margaret Ojo said that her pastor had preached against the vaccine and that she has spiritual coverings so nothing will harm her.

Fake social media videos, reactions to vaccine, religious bias largely responsible for hesitancy

Health workers told EnviroNews that Nigerians are unwilling to take the vaccine as a result of the fake social media videos, purported reactions to vaccines and religious bias.

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Oloyede Omotilewa, the Local Government Immunisation officer of Ifako Primary Health Centre in Lagos said people peddling fake news on social media were fuelling vaccine hesitancy amongst Nigerians. She called the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to intensify advocacy to rid the country of vaccine hesitancy so that the country will be totally free from COVID.

“All those fake videos where people purported to have taken the vaccine is part of the reasons why people do not want to take the vaccine. Also, people have been spreading false information; all these things are lies that will take a toll on the unvaccinated population,” she said

“The reactions exhibited by vaccinated individuals after they are being administered the vaccine is another factor, I like using myself as an example. I have taken both dosages of the vaccine. When I took my first jab, I felt sick with malaria, but it was not the vaccine that caused it, it only brought out the stored-up sickness, so all the misinformation being peddled on social media is responsible for the hesitancy. I’ll not say the government should regulate social media, but they should work towards limiting how this fake information are peddled and ensure that unvaccinated individuals are educated,” she added.

On her part Mrs Nwafor Ekene, the Vaccine Officer at Ifako General Hospital identified religious bias, and the ‘YouTube fake videos’ as factors fuelling hesitancy amongst Nigerians.

She debunked those rumours and urged Nigerians to come out en-mass to get vaccinated for a safer Nigeria.

Vaccine safe and needed to end the virus- vaccinated population

Citing the third wave of the virus Ms Ekene said the vaccine was highly safe and needed to rid the country of the virus that has continued to re-surge after it declined earlier this year.

“There is no two ways about it, Nigerians need to take the vaccine to end this virus, as we can see it seems like the virus has resurfaced and this is due to the fact the yet-to-be vaccinated population triples the population of people that have been vaccinated,” she said.’

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She further highlighted the need to educate Nigerians who have been swayed by misleading social media reports and information.

She further commended the turnout and encouraged Nigerians to take advantage of the vaccination exercise for their safety.

Vaccine safe, we only exhibited reactions based on our different body systems – Vaccinated population

 At the Vaccination Centre in Sango PHC at Agege, Aderonke Ibitoye who was at the health centre to receive her second dose of the vaccine commended the health workers for dedicating time to help Nigerians get vaccinated.

She said the vaccine is safe and that she only exhibited symptoms of malaria that she has been nursing before she was administered her first dose.

“The doctors had already told us the reactions we might have so I wasn’t in any way surprised or scared, the vaccine is safe and good for us,” she said.

On his part, Mr Bright Okechukwu said the vaccine was important and for the good of Nigerians, he commended the government for at least making sure that Nigerians gets vaccinated.

“This vaccine is not for the government we are the ones that need it,“ he said. “When you start falling sick, we’ll start blaming the government; can we at least take the vaccine which is free first? At least to stay safe.”Mr Olawale Bukoye at Agege Vaccination Centre said that he has not felt any form of sickness since he was administered the first dose of the vaccine, he added that the fake news peddled on social media is not real.

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