EFFORTS by government officials in Nigeria to widen the COVID-19 vaccine coverage is meeting formidable obstacles as a vast population of young people are resisting official entreaties.
The growing cases of vaccine hesitancy among young people in Nigeria have been traced to aggravating spread of disinformation concerning the COVID-19 vaccine. This is largely occasioned by trending disinformation on social media platforms often sponsored by influencers who leverage their popularity to spread misleading information.
Disinformation stories are often in videos and shared majorly on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms.
Notably was the video posted by former Senator Dino Melaye on Twitter, in which he asked, “How is it possible on earth that in one year, we find vaccine for COVID-19? An intelligent gathering has reviewed that some of those who took that vaccine died within three days.”
Treading on the same misleading claims is Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello who, in a viral video said, “They want to use the COVID-19 vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill you and us. God forbid!”
Members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Nigeria recently identified the upsurge of disinformation on social media platforms as a major challenge.
In a telephone interview with Femi Akinpeloye of the infectious diseases’ unit of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, the medical expert disclosed that peddling of misleading information about COVID 19 posed great danger to every member of the public.
According to him, the striking point remained that vaccination would not work in isolation. It would rather work better when a greater proportion of the population got vaccinated. The safety of one is the safety for all, he said.
He noted that though several young people did not believe in the existence of COVID-19, they had been largely spared even in the height of the surge of the disease, thereby strengthening that feeling of false safety among them.
According to him, producing a vaccine against diseases with no cure had never really been a problem. Once the organism causing the problem could be identified, then vaccine would be produced, he explained, noting that this was how antibiotics were produced. For him, it involved getting the micro-organism causing the problem to produce vaccine that man could use.
He further disclosed that it took approximately six months to one year to safely provide vaccine for human use. From the moment COVID-19 became a pandemic, he said, lot of laboratories started working on it.
Research started going on and because it was ravaging the world, people began to share information. For this reason, developing the vaccine was easier. Data were available for everybody to access, and pharmaceutical companies around the world that were into vaccine production stepped up to savage the situation, he explained.
He noted that the majority of the vaccines assumed over 75 per cent provision of antibodies against the disease. “What vaccine does is that it ensures the body is able to produce immunity against that particular virus. So much vaccine is not protecting you completely, there is still a margin to contact the virus. But even if you contact the virus, it is not expected to hit you like somebody who has not taken the vaccine. The person who did not get the vaccine is likely to fall sick that the person who got the vaccine already.”
With regard to availability of supporting data, he said data could not be gathered in a day, week, when it came to situations like this. Data gathering on vaccination, according to him, was not something that could be done within a very short time.
“You have to give it time so that the data will be reliable,” he said.
There are parameters for accessing the effectiveness of any vaccine, including reduction in the number of positive reported cases and availability of the vaccine.
Asked about the public acceptance of the vaccine, he said the reason COVID-19 vaccine was not ‘selling much’ in terms of acceptability among the youth was because the death toll at the initial stage was predominately among older people within age range of 45 and above. Many of them had one underlying problem or the other, he said, noting that the new strains of the virus were now killing younger people.
On public perception on COVID-19 vaccine uptake, he said, “While this varies across board, I believe it is because the uptake of the vaccine in our environment is more of you and the knowledge that you have. Generally, on the public, I think, is about 45 per cent. Many people do not have the information on where there can get the vaccine.”
He said though the vaccine uptake was voluntary, the government could still find a way to bridge the gap by not forcing it on the people.
“It is just that they can make it a requirement for many things. The government can make it as a requirement in both public and private universities for students to take the vaccine.”
The medical expert said “Let leaders in authority build confidence of the people by showing examples through sharing of pictures, videos when receiving COVID-19 vaccine on the social media platforms. They can further amplify it through documentary of messages on reassuring the people on the importance and protective effects of the vaccine. This will give people more confidence to take the vaccine.”