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Can herd immunity save Nigerians?

As we continue to battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, several questions on how it can be best addressed keep emerging. Most prominent amongst them is whether lockdowns are the best approach or herd immunity is a better one. Considering both options, one can say they both have their pros and cons, and while lockdown seem as the safest practice, it doesn’t seem as the most logical considering the fact that COVID-19 can span longer than we wish and the duration for mass-producing a vaccine is not a short one.

Scientists and researchers have predicted that it might take 12 to 18 months to discover a vaccine. This shows that there is a dire need to consider the best approach that should be adopted by an economy like ours that has no hope of surviving a prolonged lockdown in the absence of vaccine.

Of note – In response to the call to control the spread of the virus, governments of several nations have put in place several precautionary measures like lockdown and social distancing. In the midst of all these, the world is marching towards a global economy meltdown, one that has never been seen since the global recession of 2008. Nigeria’s economy which has over the years depended on oil has been dealt a huge blow with the fall in oil price.

Non-essential formal and informal workers are affected by the lockdown as a result of the stay at home orders; farmers are in a loss due to lack of sales and wastage of farm produce. Private school teachers have seen their salaries stopped and start-ups are folding. This and the prevailing hunger in the country witnessed by the lockdown have made people in different quarters call for the suspension of the lockdown order, albeit unpopular and controversial.

While we must appreciate that the essence of the lockdown is to slow the spread of the virus and ease the burden on already overcrowded hospitals. More striking is that legislations have been passed in different countries to enforce the lockdown orders. These top countries where lockdown has been effected are facing stiff oppositions from citizenry as they want to go about their daily activities. Hunger is affecting their physical health; isolation is affecting their mental health.

This leads us to the now frequently used term “herd immunity”. Herd Immunity is a term used in veterinary medicine and coronavirus has exposed it to common usage, it happens when so many people become immune to the virus in the society. It can happen in two ways, either by making a lot of people contract the virus and becoming naturally immune to it or getting vaccine for the larger population, with the latter currently unavailable. While medical experts go against this mode of control, the question that has been begging for answers is that what happens in the case that vaccine for coronavirus isn’t found after two years or what will happen in the cause of the two years, will the world be on hold till then, more importantly to what effect will the lockdown be after months of economic and social depletion.

This begs for the question that due to the uncertainty of pandemics, if there’s a second wave of the virus, the country that has adopted herd immunity would be immune from the second outbreak and countries without this immunity would have to go through another phase of lockdown and restriction rules.  The more we practice lockdown, self-isolation and social distancing, the longer it will take for everybody to catch it.

Looking at the historical Spanish flu, one will see that the second wave of an outbreak has high mortality than the first. Hence, we evaluate the policy adopted by Sweden which has been commended by World Health Organization as a model for fighting the virus. Though, the authorities of the country have denied that what they’re practicing isn’t herd immunity, however, when one look at how it opposes the restriction policy of its Nordic neighbours and the number of cases confirmed, one will see that the country is close to admitting its herd immunity policy.

In evaluating Sweden policy, one needs to understand that the government has left the administration of the pandemic in the hands of experts instead of politicians. In sharp contrast to what’s happening around the world, the state epidemiologist in Sweden, Anders Tegnell has been the one making news conferences and handling the national response. Also, there has been a mutual trust confidence between the leadership of Sweden and its citizenry. The citizens while supporting the government for not restricting their freedom have also been responsible to each other as they maintain ethical adherence to recommendations and the country is united. Indeed, trust trumps authoritarianism.

However, looking at it from a different angle, one will agree that some factors have been responsible for the positivity seen from Sweden approach to coronavirus response.
Sweden’s small but IT literate population, good health care facility, highly advanced digital infrastructure, world class welfare system, national unity and consciousness have been responsible to its ability to maintain the policy. These factors are lacking in Nigeria and most African countries. Hence, we have to put in a policy that would ensure our sustainability.

The lockdown has lived a purpose, it has been able to publicise the virus. Now is the time to ensure compliance to using face masks, avoidance of public gatherings of more than 20 people, hand washing and teaching people on how to live with the virus.

Many have said that this is not the best of time to be a national officer but I’ll rather say that in a matter of picking what’s right or popular, the government should stick to what’s right and is of national interest than what’s popular.  Pandemic might be full of uncertainties as we don’t know what would happen in the next hour, however, government should be visionary while making decisions, as this is the right time to gain the people’s trust. Until a vaccine is discovered, COVID-19 is our reality and we cannot run away from it by locking ourselves up. The numbers would rise but with good policies, the virus would be managed till there’s a cure and a vaccine.

 

Abass Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi writes from Ayetoro, Ogun State and can be reached via oyeyemiabass@yahoo.com

 

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