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Stakeholders admit Covid-19 vaccine efficacy claim yet unproven, insist on safety

Just like the rest of the world, the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination campaign in Nigeria is experiencing an unexpected glitch, as the intended beneficiaries – the people – have continued to express disbelief over the acclaimed efficacy of the antidote.

GET Summit
A group of participants at the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment (GET) Covid-19 Vaccine Summit in Lagos

From the United States of America to the United Kingdom, and the entirety of Europe, the global epicentre of the deadly virus, resistance level against the Covid-19 vaccine inoculation is unbelievably high.

In Nigeria especially, the skepticism has unfortunately led to a widening sense of apathy, thereby hindering the preplanned objective of the government to cover as much as 60% of the population, for the attainment of Herd Immunity that would prevent further vulnerability and fatalities amongst the populace.

While the public have hinged their cynicisms on politicisation of the virus, suspicion against the safety of the vaccines, and government’s age-long poor integrity and accountabilty, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has insisted that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and efficacious.

WHO assured that the vaccine remains the leading scientific breakthrough of the 21st century, given the record-time of delivery, and its certification to prevent hospitalisation and deaths against the raging coronavirus pandemic.

At the middle of the storm is the government of Nigeria, particularly that of Lagos State, which says given its sustained integrity on public accountability, transparency, responsiveness, social welfare and connectedness, and as well as leadership by example, it should be more believed by the people on the campaign and willfully keyed into the programme.

Frontline workers deployed to administer the immunisation have repeatedly complained of low turnout of the supposed beneficiaries of the programme.

As part of strategies adopted to improve the public acceptance of the programme however, stakeholders converged at the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment (GET) Covid-19 Vaccine Summit in Lagos on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 to dissect the challenges, address the underlining issues, and device improved approached to getting the job down.

The parley featured six sessions, one opening and closing apiece and four technical sessions, respectively anchored by the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi; Professor Isaac Adebayo, a Professor of Virology and Immunology, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State; Professor Obayori Olufemi; and Dr. Sina Fagbenro-Bryon.

Each of the speakers dissecting topics such as “Government role in ensuring effective COVID-19 Vaccine access and distribution,” delivered by Prof Abayomi; “Understanding the advantages and possible challenges with AstraZeneca Vaccine,” presented by Prof Adebayo; “Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy in Local Communities,” by Prof Olufemi; and “Tackling Misinformation and effective ways of communicating COVID-19 Vaccination in Nigeria,” by Dr. Fagbenro-Bryon.

In his detailed report on Lagos State Government’s efforts in combating the virus, Abayomi, the arrowhead of the state frontline efforts, categorically alluded to the fear of the masses when he acknowledged that “the efficacy claim of the (Oxford AstraZeneca) Vaccine can’t be presently proven, as it has not been administered on African soil before,” hence the insistence of the government on proper monitoring “to ensure it doesn’t have any short-term or long-term detrimental effects on the people.”

The pronouncement followed multiple layers of precautionary measures being put in place by the government, as a second validation check to ascertain the potency of the vaccine.

One of the measures include a second laboratory certification process, via the nation’s National Food and Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, NAFDAC, and wholistic integrity checks and reinforcement of the nation’s Cold-Chain infrastructure.

“However, I am here to assure Nigerians, particularly the good people of Lagos State, that the vaccine has been largely proven effectively against hospitalisation and deaths, hence the importance for you to take it.

“As a responsible government, the Incident Commander, Mr Governor himself, has taken the vaccine, the Deputy Incident Commander, the Deputy Governor, has taken it, I have taken it, and the entire leadership of the state government have taken it, in demonstration of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

“This is we believe is in further demonstration of our leadership by example to you. Hence, I recommend you go all out to subscribe to the vaccine. The essence is to help us build Herd Immunity that would prevent vulnerability and deaths,” Abayomi admonished.

Lagos State has so far vaccinated a total of 127,000 people, as at Tuesday, representing an insignificant percentage of the state huge population of over 24million people. The entire country has vaccinated 600,000 people so far.

The entire African continent has only received 24million dozes of the vaccine, a mere 2% coverage of the entire continent or the entire populace of only Lagos.

This elicited an admonition by the stakeholders for a social justice system in the equitable distribution of the vaccine, globally.

“The global community should ensure social justice in the equitable distribution of the vaccine. The intended objective is to ensure countries have up to 60 percent Herd Immunity against the virus, through the vaccine. If a particular region or country is neglected, it would pose a significant risk to the other continent or countries already passed this threshold because such would allow the virus to continue to mutate and they would eventually be infected with the mutated version of the virus,” Abayomi added.

Also speaking at the forum, Professor Adebayo presented a more academic-focused paper on the literary standpoint on what a pandemic like Covid-19 means to the citizens of the world and the possibility of it frequent mutation, thereby resisting all curative measures.

Insisting that “non-pharmaceutical method appears most consistent and effective method against hospitalisation and death against the deadly virus”, the professor of virology and immunology warned that “unless humanity comes to term with the new normal and hence practice social distance and warning and hand sanitisation religiously, the virus may not be quickly brought to a stop.”

He however applauded the Lagos State Commissioner of Health for “speaking the truth about the government’s challenges while combating the virus,” saying that such an act of honesty stood him out and his government “as the most reliable and transparent one.

“Usually, African leaders are averse to lying to the people, claiming to know all and have all the solution to all given problems, meanwhile they do not know anything. But your honesty here today about the constraint of the government while combating the challenge of COVID 19 makes me to respect you and the government of Lagos State,” he added.

Professor Olufemi said globally and according to him, public resistance against immunisation against deadly pandemic are often fuelled by religious, cultural beliefs, and lack of accountability by government, imploring the government to adopt a more sincere and relatable approach to winning the heart of the populace.

In his extensive presentation, Olufemi played back the initial failure of immunisation against polio myelitis in the country, a costly decision that led to the death of many children and crippling of many more until 2015 when the country was eventually certifies Polio Free by the World Health Organisation.

“Currently, there is high rate of hesitancy against the Coronavirus vaccine, and that will greatly impair the progress of the against the pandemic.

“It is a global phenomenal and unfortunately, Nigeria is caught in the web. However, the best way to go about it is to be honest and transparent in communicating the intent and fact of the programme to the populace,” he added.

The same line was re-echoed by the last speaker, Dr. Fagbenro, who admonished the government to simplify its messaging to increases public acceptance and decrease rejection.

In doing this, he urged the government to enlist the service of religious, traditional, leaders and as well as social influencer to deliver the job.

By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina

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