COVID-19 Vaccine Apathy and The Influence of Conspiracy Theories

Since the breakthrough of COVID_19 vaccines, worries and concerns have accompanied their procurement in Africa. It has been over three months since the roll out of vaccines in Europe and America, yet none has been administered in Africa.  South Africa that made the bold attempt to roll out vaccines, had to stop after about 25 persons were vaccinated. The official reason was that its efficacy against the South African variant of the virus was “doubtful”.

Governments, organizations, groups, industrialists, and stakeholders around Africa have nonetheless been making concerted efforts to acquire vaccines for the continent. Afreximbank set up a $2 billion facility with the African Union Vaccine task force to procure vaccines for the continent. Following information that emanated from the recent rumpus in the house of CACOVID, the allocation for Nigeria had been capped at 42 million doses. One million doses are due for shipment to Nigeria in the next two weeks. Since CACOVID has already made a down payment, it is expected that the doses would arrive Nigeria soon. Yet as the arrival of the vaccines approaches, another round of problems bordering on trust might brew.

When it made airwaves that COVID_19 was now in Nigeria, it met with the usual Nigerian disbelief. Since the first reported case in February, the Nigerian government has struggled to get Nigerians to believe in the reality of a COVID_19 existence. While some needed the declaration of a second wave to come to terms with the fact that COVID_19 was real and is equally killing people here, others have remained adamant. This is seen in the disregard for imposed COVID_19 rules and measures in the public sphere among several Nigerians. The government was even forced to prescribe a six- month jail term for violators of COVID_19 protocols. Yet nothing has really changed.

Clearly, the government is faced with the challenge of clamping down on the impact of the pandemic on her economy. It is equally struggling with getting the commitment of Nigerians to observe the imposed measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, where its presence in the country is inhibiting full economic revitalization. It has gone further to acquire vaccines for her people, but conspiracy theories regarding the vaccines, coupled with the usual Nigerian disbelief  might threaten their free flow.

The conspiracy theories which accompanied the emergence of COVID_19 have begun to expand underground as the arrival of the vaccines draws near. A surprising number of Nigerians have insisted that they wouldn’t take the vaccines for anything. In Lagos where a random sampling of opinions was carried out within the Ikeja axis of the state, 2 out of every 3 persons said they have made up their minds not to take the vaccine and they will encourage their family members to avoid it as well.

Some attribute it to the alleged conspiracy to implant microchips to alter people’s DNA. Others claim because it’s part of an agenda by the Western world to wipe out Africa.

Another preposterous position, especially for those in religious circles, is that it is a ploy to bring to manifestation the anti-Christ prophecies. The claims are that the COVID_19 vaccine is the mark of the beast. To bolster their premise, conspiracy theorists in this category insist that the mark of the beast as discussed in the Bible wouldn’t take a physical form but would involve a subtler scheme at play that would make people get the mark, and that the vaccine is just one of them.

It is noteworthy that some of this misinformation emanated from social media. A popular video that made rounds on social media revealed a lady claiming that the vaccine is a microchip that can lead to death upon refusal. She captioned the video with particular reference to the end time story in Revelations 15 in the Bible: “You’re required to take the mark of the beast (vaccine) or you die, but you know what God’s word says so you deny it.”

Another category has also used religious explanations to claim that the vaccines are a microchip the world government wants to install in the human population, so as to control and monitor lives.

These shocking theories have gained so much grounds in Nigeria where people are natural “doubters”.  Many Nigerians rarely trust the government and some extol anything related to myth. A few have even gone as far as politicizing the vaccines, insisting that it is a ploy by the government to wipe out other regions to enhance ethnic dominance.

Fake news and rumors have spread massively and have become commonplace. Once the vaccine arrives we expect to see another interesting episode. It wouldn’t be surprising if somebody spreads fake news on social media that the vaccine has killed someone, thereby leading to more hesitancy around the vaccines. It is believed that organizing a huge information and sensitization campaign ahead would be necessary if the government wants to deploy the vaccines effectively across the country. 

Renowned General Overseer of Kingsway International Christian Center (KICC) Rev Mathew Ashimolowo has lent his voice to the situation. While speaking at a national combined service at the KICC Maryland Prayer Dome, he advised Nigerians to take the vaccines when it arrives the country. He admonished conspiracy theorists and called on all and sundry to ignore them.

He noted that he had received injections on two different occasions and would receive a third because he will be vaccinated. He maintained that this is in spite of his 49 years of being a Christian:

“I am not mocking anyone… since I have been a Christian, for about 49 years now and I will be 69 next month (March) I have never slept in a hospital bed. I have received injections maybe once or twice.

“But there will be a third one because I will be vaccinated against COVID_19 soon.

“Don’t listen to conspiracy theorists, some have said a lot of things about the vaccine, don’t listen to them, in fact, block them for some time.”

Pastor Ashimolowo added that faith should be the very reason Christians and by extension Nigerians should take the vaccines, adding that “You can frustrate your own prophecy.” Other well-meaning Nigerians have also asked Nigerians to receive the vaccines when they come so as to help Nigeria combat the virus and move Nigeria out of the full impact of the virus.

It is worthy of note that vaccine  hesitancy has always existed. Vaccine hesitancy was identified as one of the top ten global threats of 2019 by the World Health Organisation. It is even more peculiar with parents who hesitate to vaccinate their children for various reasons. According to experts, two of the more prominent parental concerns over the past decade have been that vaccines may cause autism, and that children are receiving too many vaccines. These concerns have no scientific backing. But the decision to defer or refuse vaccines also affects public health. This is because when the proportion of the overall population that is immuned to a disease (herd immunity) decreases, disease prevalence increases, increasing the possibility of disease in people at risk.

The importance of vaccination cannot be overemphasized. For instance, many children in Nigeria were ravaged by the debilitating disease of polio. This was prior to 1989 when the WHO Regional Committee for Africa adopted WHA resolution and endorsed the goal of polio eradication on the continent. Even at that, there was non-compliance with immunization activities. According to ReliefWeb, “this was compounded by a group of religious leaders, the Jammatul Nasril Islam (JNI) and some Islamic sects such as the Boko Haram (BH) that had contaminated the minds of many parents with wrong information about polio vaccination.”

In 2019, BBC reported the case of a man identified as Adamu Musa who said he used to chase away polio vaccine health workers in Northern Nigeria but later was campaigning for vaccination after his son contracted polio.

There are empirical proofs for the effectiveness of large-scale vaccination campaigns. For instance, statistics by the WHO reveal that two to three million deaths are prevented each year worldwide due to vaccination. Experts also state that additional 1.5 million deaths could be prevented each year if all recommended vaccines were used by the world population. Vaccination campaigns have also helped eradicate smallpox, which once killed as many as one in seven children in Europe, and have nearly eradicated polio.

Only last year August, BBC reported that Africa had been declared free of wild-polio. Statistics from BBC revealed that in Nigeria, polio has witnessed a significant drop in the last ten years (with little or no cases from 2014 to 2020).

Read Also: COVID-19 Vaccine: How Soon Can Local Researchers Deliver Efficient Shots?

There are indeed concerns that some counterfeiters might try to circulate fake coronavirus vaccines at this trying period. These fake vaccines and their health implications can even reinforce the bogus stories of these conspiracy theorists. Perhaps such venomous elements in the society can have a rethink if they can listen to the words of an American top politician, Ann Richards, that “The here and now is all we have, and if we play it right, it’s all we need”.

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