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COVID-19: People are suspicious; will not take vaccines –Lagosians

•‘Anything that’ll keep people alive is welcome’

The approval of COVID-19 vaccines across the world ought to have offered a path out of the pandemic. But not for cynics, who rely on the misinformation that it is a scam. Others have also believed the wilder claim that it is an attempt to implant chips in people. Worried by these insinuations, Isioma Madike, in this report, tries to find out if people are willing to take the vaccines, given the fact that the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, recently announced that the state is ready to vaccinate 60 per cent of Lagosians

When it comes to the fraught topic of COVID-19 vaccines, many often balance on a razor-thin edge. While some are open to getting vaccinated, others seem hesitant because of the potentially harmful misinformation concerning the vaccines that have been flying about. This inaccurate information spreads widely and at high speed, making it more difficult for the public to identify verified facts and advice from trusted sources. While some call the vaccines a scam, others also believe the wilder claim that it is an attempt to implant chips in people. The fear that it will somehow change the DNA equation is one that has regularly found expression on social media.

These have, somehow, shaped peoples’ perception about the vaccines and the continued rejection to be vaccinated. The Chief Medical Officer of Crest Hospital, Igando, Dr. Waheed Abayomi, said the honest but sad truth is that very few Lagosians and indeed Nigerians would readily consent to take the COVID vaccine.

The reasons, according to him, are myriad. He said: “Skepticism takes the crown here. A large percentage of the populace still believes that COVID-19 is not real. Some believe it is a cunny attempt by government officials to embezzle or misappropriate funds meant for the test, building of isolation centres, and other COVID protocols.

“Government’s body language is also suspect. On the one hand, it preaches social distancing and on the other, it tries to force people to congregate and register for the National Identification Number (NIM). Many highly placed government officials and influential politicians also openly propagate conspiracy theories while some religious leaders quote the scriptures to support the ignorance of the former.

“This is made worse by conflicting medical opinions on the safety or otherwise of the vax. In this mix of conflicting views, the truth would suffer. Don’t forget that lots of Nigerians are gullible. If you ask me, I’d say they won’t readily take the vaccine.” Also, a university lecturer, Dr. A. B. C. Anyanwu is of the opinion that there is something about vaccines that is fishy. “Reason, the victims in the whole of Africa is less what obtained in Italy alone. Why should Africa then be the main target? Beyond that, do we have the facilities to store and preserve such large quantities? We should not be carried away by argument about death. Boko Haram and herdsmen kill more than COVID-19 on a daily basis,” he said.

Another university don, Dr. Kolawole Adeniyi, said: “Well, what I know is that many people in this part of the world do not even believe that COVID- 19 is real, despite the number of people dying around us. It’s unfortunate that we will have this destructive attitude of denial regardless of overwhelming evidence. And people who do not follow God in matters of life and holiness now believe that even if it exists, it is not their portion. Given all these, I will not be surprised if Lagosians and other Nigerians refuse to take the vaccine.” For Dr. Emeka Umejie, a media scholar, Nigerians are held back by religious and cultural insinuations.

The situation, he said, is also not helped by religious leaders, who are encouraging their followers not to take the vaccine. “I am convinced that the majority of Lagosians will not take the vaccine because of religious and traditional sentiments.” A Lawyer-turned banker, who lives at Omojuwa Estate, Kosofe-Mile 12, Jeremiah Zephaniah, is of the belief that vaccines for now should be a European/ American thing, and should not be pushed into Africa yet. “More so that Europe/America are worst affected by the pandemic for now. To me, this vaccine thing should be gradually introduced into Africa. The rush makes it suspicious,” he added.

The National Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, is also skeptical of the vaccines. He said: “There have been serious issues created around COVID-19 vaccines to create a lot of doubt and the confidence of the populace is shaken. And when they were using people as Guinea pigs for Pfizer, which is now making millions, there is cause to worry.” A National Security Resource, Solution- Options Consultant and CEO of GoldWater & RiverSand, has a different perspective to the whole vaccine saga.

He asked many questions to bring the import of his belief to bear. He asked: “Why treat a man who is hungrier than he is unwell? Are Nigerians hungry, yes; are they poor, yes; are they largely unemployed, yes; do they look ill, no, are they dying in their numbers from COVID-19, no. Are the hospitals and cemeteries filled to capacity or even half filled with cases and corpses? No.” Given the above, two things, he said, naturally suffice: “First, is COVID-19 real, yes. Second, would the average Lagosians or Nigerian (given the average street effect) of the virus prefer a hunger vaccine to a COVID-19 vaccine? Your guess, my guess, does not change the dynamics.

Nigerians may be politically gullible, that does not make them clones,” he said. Apart from these highly placed individuals, ordinary Lagosians are also sharing their views on the COVID-19 vaccines. For instance, Adams Otomewo, who lives in the Surulere area of the state, said he really does not think that the common people are willing to take the vaccine going by the mentality and mindset of a good number of families, friends and strangers he had interacted with on the issue. “Their reasoning suggests COVID-19 does not exist.

So, they will not be ready to take any vaccine associated with a disease they believe to be a scam. The other part regarding implant of chips, to me, is just an insinuation though. A lot of people forgot that some diseases have come and gone and different vaccines were developed for them. In any case, I believe most of us may need to change our mindset as regards ways we judge issues,” Otomewo said. Peter Osazuwa, who lives at Ajao Estate, also believes sincerely that many Nigerians are not ready for it.

“This is even more so that the APC-led Federal Government is not doing enough to educate the citizenry in this regard,” he added. However, there are still those who think differently concerning vaccination. Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, a rights activist and president of the Women Arise for Change Initiative, sharply disagrees with most of the opinions held regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. She said there is no iota of truth whatsoever in the negative information being peddled around with regard to some ulterior motives being the basis for which the COVID-19 vaccines are to be administered on the citizens.

Okei-Odumakin said: “Lagosians just like other citizen across the world are eager to get these vaccines, which is a gateway out of the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic. It is also my view that there must be priority attention in line of the administration of the COVID-19 vaccines to our healthcare workers, who have been at the frontline, working tirelessly against the speed of this pandemic.

This can then be followed by our senior citizens in those age groups that have been identified to be most vulnerable. “There is also a need for transparency and accountability in the distribution and administration of the vaccine, in order to ensure that there is no stratification against ordinary Nigerians, who are at risk of contracting the virus, just like the class of the privileged few. Transparency becomes the key criteria that must be employed in this regard.” Like Okei-Odumakin, Afolabi Gambari, a Public Affairs commentator, thinks Lagosians are willing to take the COVID-19 vaccines, given the devastating effect of the virus they have seen across the world and the need they feel to stay alive in the circumstance.

“However, considering the conspiracy that is being woven around the vaccines, which is not helped by the media attention accorded the theory and government’s apparent low level awareness drive for the vaccines, the ordinary people have grown wary of the vaccines.

This is the situation we have found ourselves in Nigeria. “Nonetheless, the situation can change. But the media and government would need to drive the positivity of the vaccines to make everyone think positively towards the vaccines too,” he said. A Consultant Neurologist – Spinal Cord Expert, Dr. Biodun Ogungbo, also believes Lagosians are ready to take the vaccine but said that it depends on how the message is presented to the people. “There are conspiracy theories about chips in vaccines but these are all lies and rumour mongering,” he stated. Efe Omordia, who lives in the FESTAC area of Lagos, like Gambari and Ogungbo, believes quite a number of Lagosians will take the vaccines but said they are apprehensive about it.

She however, said it is advisable for everyone to do a thorough research and most importantly follow their instincts rather than popular position in either direction as the consequences may be irreversible. For a Lagos-based lawyer, Emeka Obi, Lagosians are largely ignorant about the fact that COVID-19 is real and that it is here.

“They are cynical as they believe that hunger is a greater problem. However, the majority of them love life and anything that will keep them from the grave, like vaccines, is welcome,” he said. Chris Anyokwu, PhD. and Associate Professor of English at the University of Lagos, said unsurprisingly, the politics of vaccines has been complicated by a welter of conspiracy theories, which has set social media on fire and skewered peoples of the world.

Perhaps one of the most recurrent and vexatious theories, he said, is that of the 5G. He said: “It is rumoured that the ‘Big Reveal’ arising from an autopsy performed on a dead body from the COVID-19 shows that it does not exist as a virus and that it is a global scam. They claim that people are dying due to ‘Amplified Global G5 Electromagnetic Radiation.’

“Naysayers also wonder at the supersonic speed with which vaccines have been developed for the virus whereas none has been found or developed for malaria, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, SARS and cancer. Added to the interesting scenario are spooky theories about the so-called End-Time agenda of the Anti-Christ, who, it is alleged, is behind-the-scenes, using iconic figures like Bill and Melinda Gates to underwrite, on the one hand, geneticallymodified- organism (GMO) farm produce manufactured to depopulate the Global South and, on the other, fund research efforts to prepare the earth for his coming.

“Receiving the vaccine, the argument goes, is synonymous with being branded with the Mark of the Beast – 666! Interestingly, Bill Gates has reacted to this, calling it, ‘false conspiracy theories’. What should concern us instead is the testing challenge in sub- Saharan Africa. “For instance, the vaccine is stored at temperatures as low as –70˚C, which makes it particularly difficult to distribute in developing countries, especially tropical Africa. Many African countries cannot afford the most accurate tests. They do not have the infrastructure to conduct surveillance studies and information is obsolete, not up-to-date.

“However, since the COVID-19 pandemic is here with us, we will do well to steer clear of all the noise and confusion generated around conspiracy theories, scientific and/or religious, and strictly observe safety and health precautionary measures to stay alive.” The vaccines as manufactured by a number of companies are at the moment the most sought after the world over. Everyone, it seems, scrambles to get hold of enough doses for their citizens. In fact, some call it the race against time as a solution to the COVID- 19 pandemic. And since there is no proven cure for now, the production of vaccines, to many, especially the educated and informed, is a welcome relief. But there are concerns over the safety and effectiveness of the COVID- 19 vaccines and this may be why some Lagosians, like other Nigerians, nurse some fear about taking it.

For some, the COVID-19 pandemic is an artificial creation for big pharmaceutical companies to make money and the vaccines, which is equally expensive, may just be a way to serve the purpose of the rich. There are others, who also believe it is being pushed to actually depopulate the world, particularly the African continent. For the arguments, many Lagosians believe the pandemic is all about money and pernicious agenda. It will be recalled that the authorities in Lagos, the country’s economic hub and the epicentre of COVID-19 cases, recently announced plans to mass vaccinate residents in the state. Sanwo-Olu, made this known in a statement, where he said that the state is aiming to achieve a 60 per cent vaccine rollout when the vaccination programme commences in the coming weeks. He had stressed that the figure would help check the rate of transmission and build the resilience of the state against the ravaging virus.

The governor had added that the state government did not have the plan to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to all residents, as, according to him, the state may not have the resources to do that. Sanwo-Olu had also stated that critical segments in the state population would be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity against the pandemic. He had said: “We don’t have to vaccinate the whole of 22 million people in Lagos.

The plan is around ensuring that there is herd immunity and that typically speaks to 50 to 60 percent of our population. That’s the target we need to really meet in vaccine roll-out.” Even with that, many Lagosians are still skeptical about the vaccination because they believe it to be a scam.

Other misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccines for COVID-19 are being churned out on a daily basis, potentially driving people away from getting vaccinated whenever it is available. One of the wildest conspiracy theories is a purported evil plan by Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, to use mass coronavirus vaccinations to implant microchips in billions of people to track their movements and to possibly depopulate the world.

But in his reaction, Gates in one of his media chats, said the misinformation about his work on vaccines was so weird that he found it difficult to understand – and he categorically denied involvement in any sort of micro chipping conspiracy. He had said: “In a way, it’s so bizarre you almost want to see it as something humorous, but it’s really not a humorous thing. It’s almost hard to deny this stuff because it’s so stupid or strange that even to repeat it gives it credibility.”

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