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Vaccine apathy poses barrier to Nigeria’s herd immunity target

Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when a lifeline, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, arrived in the country a fortnight ago.

Following the arrival of nearly 4 million doses of the vaccine, certain persons were placed in the priority group to receive inoculation, including strategic political leaders, frontline health workers and other health workers.

However, the rollout of the vaccines has been accompanied with apprehension due to speculations that it is linked with side effects. Moreover, several countries across Europe, including France, Italy and Germany have suspended the use of the vaccine over concern of alleged blood clot.

Though AstraZeneca and other relevant health bodies have reassured that the vaccine is safe for use, the halt in vaccine rollout in developed countries may have affected public confidence in the vaccine.

But Osamwonyi Irowa, permanent secretary, Edo State Ministry of Health, said it is a public health issue and the more people take the vaccine, the faster everyone can return to their normal lives.

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“Recently, the governor alongside other persons in the priority list, including myself, took the vaccines. If we don’t trust the vaccine, we wouldn’t have taken it. We are trying to do everything possible to ensure that people trust the vaccine,” Irowa said.

“The vaccine is safe and effective for its purpose. More importantly, the result of the investigations on the vaccine are not yet out. The side effects mentioned are common adverse effects that follow vaccine administration and will reduce with time,” the permanent secretary said.

Julie Erhabor, executive secretary, Edo State Primary Health Care, said the AstraZeneca vaccine is more user-friendly and has mild side effects such as slight fever and body pains.

Despite these assurances, however, doubts persist which may further threaten the vaccination exercise, slow down the attainment of herd immunity and possibly thwart the Federal Government Nigeria’s target to vaccinate millions of eligible citizens within the next two years.

“Why will I take the vaccine? I will not take it because other countries are suspending it. Are we more advanced than France or Germany? I didn’t register and I don’t plan to till those countries resume the use of the vaccine,” said a 57-year-old resident of Benin City, Edo State capital, on condition of anonymity.

Another resident, who also did not want his name in print, urged Nigerian leaders to develop homegrown approach to remedy COVID-19 instead of waiting for other countries.

“There is hardship and the recent level of inflation is appalling. Nigeria should be more interested in looking for ways to proffer solutions to its economic problems,” the person said.

“I am not interested in registering because the vaccine will not inoculate me against contracting the virus. So, it is of no value, it is just an academic exercise,” he said.

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