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Scepticism, mistrust mount as Nigeria takes delivery of Covid-19 vaccines early February

…Experts warn apathy may cause more harm

As Nigeria gets ready to take delivery of its first Covid-19 vaccine consignment early next month, based on the assurance of authorities that there would be adequate infrastructure in place ahead of arrival, a significant number of citizens appears not comfortable with taking the much-awaited vaccines, BusinessDay SUNDAY finding has shown.

The apathy toward the vaccine is largely fuelled by mistrust for government, system efficacy, safety concerns, myths as well as prevailing disbelief in the existence of the virus.

Also, while some Nigerians say they do not feel threatened by the virus and do not need any vaccine, others are convinced by the rumour making the rounds that the vaccine will depopulate Africans.

Only recently too, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) raised the alarm over possible “fake” Covid-19 vaccines in the country. This has further heightened safety concerns in the country.

Experts, who spoke with BusinessDay SUNDAY, said the level of vaccine rejection in the country should be a chief concern for government at the moment and government should prioritise winning the trust of its people than purchasing vaccines. They want government to slow down purchase or cut down on the number of vaccines and focus on driving acceptance first to avoid wastage.

Experts are also worried that a low vaccination translates that Nigeria is not yet out of the woods, which means continued slow paced development, especially in the health sector and the economy.

This is just as Nigeria is witnessing a surge in the number of cases and deaths since Nigeria entered into a second wave in November. On Thursday 21st January, Nigeria set a new single-day record with 1,964 new cases. The total of confirmed cases till this date is 116,655 and the total deaths stand at 1,485.

Nigeria expects to take delivery of 100,000 doses of Covid-19 Pfizer vaccines later this month As it has secured 42 million from COVAX facility and 10 million more from the African Union Initiative. The health minister has already approached the National Assembly to seek loan of N400 billion to procure vaccines and plans to vaccinate 40 percent of the population this year.

Faisal Shuaib, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) boss, said 70 percent of Nigerians must be vaccinated for the country to exit the pandemic. However, over 80 percent of Nigerians who spoke to BusinessDay SUNDAY in the nation’s capital said they are not interested in taking the vaccines.

Similarly, SBM Intelligence, Nigeria’s geopolitical intelligence platform, shows that 60 percent of Nigerians are skeptical or not interested in the vaccines.

“I will not take it. I am not scared of the virus, it’s just overhyped, I have contacted it like twice and my life went on smoothly. I am even more afraid of malaria than Covid-19, so why should I take a vaccine that may do more damage to my system or develop some serious side effects,” Ngozi Odigbo told BusinessDay SUNDAY.

Another Nigerian, who gave Olore as her name, said: “I will not take it, our vaccines in Nigeria is always somehow, either they are not well preserved, outdated or something else. I don’t trust the quality of vaccine government will bring in; I don’t trust them not to dilute our own. The virus is not so serious in Nigeria. I can only observe the safety protocols but being injected with something, no!”

“What government is telling us are mere lies, they told us initially that Covid-19 is not affecting Africans, now they are telling us it’s infectious. Are the symptoms of malaria and Covid-19 not the same? Let me tell you that what the people in the Western countries are facing is not what Nigeria is facing; so why will I take a vaccine that I do not know about; something that may reduce my life span gradually,” another Nigerian called Arinze Tony, said.

“Let everybody in government take the vaccines first. Yes, they said the president will take it on TV, but, how are we sure it’s not paracetamol or tetanus injection that they will give them? Government should know that Nigerians are wiser now than before. I will never take it, I have never contracted Covid-19,” Abubakar Muhammed said.

Another Nigerian who shared the same view said: “I will never take the vaccine, it’s better for me to even drink my ‘agbo’ (herbal drink) than to take that thing.”

“I may take the vaccine, but that will be after I have observed others who have taken it for like six months and be convinced that it is safe,” another said.

Aremu Philips said, “I myself, I am a vaccine to coronavirus; I don’t wear all these face mask and sanitizers whatever, but I have never contracted it, that’s assuming the virus is in Nigeria, why should I take the vaccine? Let government take it, it’s their disease.”

Some Nigerians who are willing or undecided about taking the virus are mostly worried about safety. Gladys Akpan said: “I am willing to take the vaccine; the little concern I have is safety; does government have the capacity to store and maintain the quality of those vaccines? Government needs to work on that to convince Nigerians more.”

“I don’t mind taking the vaccine, if really it’s the original vaccines they will bring and not fake as you can see the fake ones are already circulating,” Eleojoh Wada said.

In the same vein, the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, in a viral video last week condemned the use of the vaccine, saying it was meant to kill people.

He said, “Vaccines are being produced in less than one year of Covid-19. There is no vaccine yet for HIV, malaria, cancer, headache and for several other diseases that are killing us. They want to use the (Covid-19) vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill us. God forbid,” he said.

“We should draw our minds back to what happened in Kano during the Pfizer polio vaccines that crippled and killed our children. We have learned our lessons.

“If they say they are taking the vaccines in the public allow them take their vaccines. Don’t say I said you should not take it but if you want to take it open your eyes before you take the vaccines.”

However, Olufemi Babalola, president, Guild of Medical Directors (GMD), warned that if government cannot get a significant population to take the vaccines, it will take Nigeria longer time to exit the pandemic.

He urged government to focus on changing her citizens’ perception.

Babalola advised government not to order much of these vaccines so that they do not waste, especially with the Pfizer vaccines that require more stringent storage requirement.

He however, expressed concern over the capacity of Nigeria to actually store the Pfizer vaccines as they have claimed. He suggested that government would have gone for the AstraZeneca vaccines which cheaper and easier to store.

The Pfizer vaccines must be stored at the ultra-cold temperature of -70°C, this means the vaccine must be kept in specialised freezers that cost as much as $20,000 each and are rare outside of medical research facilities. But, the

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine can be stored and transported at normal refrigerated temps for at least six months.

Edeatan Ojo, a public affairs analyst, said ignorance is what is fuelling the misconceptions and myths around the vaccines. He said Nigeria will remain vulnerable to the virus if up to 70 percent vaccination is not achieved, then the country is still vulnerable to the virus and puts foreign relations into jeopardy.

“If a sufficient number do not take the vaccines, it means we will remain vulnerable and the virus continues to spread. Other countries will be hesitant on letting Nigerians into their country or coming to Nigeria even when they are done with vaccinations.

He noted that more resources will continue to be used for the pandemic while other critical health issues will not get the required attention and the country will continue to lag in those areas.

In the same vein, Patrick Dakum, CEO of the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN), also agreed that the vaccine hesitancy will result in low coverage. He advised that key religious and opinion leaders, including scientists should publicly take the vaccine to allay some of the fears and increase acceptance.

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