Address vaccine reluctance fueled by misinformation and propaganda
The next major challenge in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be reluctance to vaccinate. Several factors bordering mainly on disinformation, false prophecies and propaganda produced by conspiracy theorists have discouraged people from getting vaccinated. To articulate strategies to counter these false and negative narratives, the United Nations Children’s Fund recently held a workshop in Kano. Onyebuchi Ezigbo, who was at the dialogue, reports
Nigeria, like most parts of the world, has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus brought with it panic and desolation among people, until scientists mobilized to produce vaccines to help eradicate the scourge. However, the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines has launched another challenge, that of the reluctance of part of the population. Today, as Nigeria grapples with the challenges of securing sufficient doses of COVID-19 vaccine for the eligible population, some people are busy denigrating and undermining credible health advisories aimed at ending the scourge. of disease.
Of major concern is the issue of apathy against the use of the COVID-19 vaccine. The fact that some people refuse to be vaccinated and at the same time do not follow the sanitary protocol against infectious diseases is a source of concern for all those who understand the imminent danger posed by such an act.
As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have warned that low immunization rates could put the country at serious risk from rampant variants of COVID-19 and could lead to otherwise preventable deaths.
Current immunization figures in Nigeria are estimated at around 4,024,704 people. This figure is a far cry from the projected target of around 70 million that will allow the country to obtain collective immunity to stem the devastating COVID-19.
What is more worrying is the fact that this reluctance towards the vaccine, as it is now called in medical jargon, is mainly fueled by ignorance and evil. Those not well informed about the deadly nature of COVID-19 and what they stand to gain from taking protective vaccines are being fooled by a few mischievous and conspiracy theorists.
Dialogue with the media
Speaking during a two-day media dialogue on the COVID-19 vaccination campaign organized by UNICEF, in collaboration with the Children’s Rights Office of the Federal Ministry of Information (CRiB) to put in place advocacy measures to be adopted by the government, UNICEF communications specialist Jeffrey Njoku said several misconceptions, conspiracy theories and innuendoes against the use of COVID-19 vaccines are unfounded.
For example, Njoku said that there have been no reports of serious side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine on those who have taken it in Nigeria. However, Njoku said it is incumbent on the authorities and the media to find more effective ways to debunk such flawed assumptions. Njoku urged the government to engage in aggressive media and community advocacy to allay fears and mistaken innuendos about COVID-19 vaccines to encourage popular participation.
“More awareness is needed to convince people of the effectiveness of vaccines as a way to eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, thus encouraging them to take the vaccine,” he said.
Speaking on the topic “Calling for the creation of COVID-19 vaccines,” UNICEF Field Office Chief Kano Maulid Warfa said those who are reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccine may have their reason to hesitate, even if these reasons are not factual. . He said the media and community leaders have a role in giving them the right information about the effectiveness of vaccines.
One of the measures to improve vaccine sponsorship, he said, is to debunk the misinformation lagging behind the current immunization exercise.
Method of debunking misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine
A university professor and vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Kashere in Gombe State, Professor Umar Pate advised that the awareness campaign to support the vaccination program should not be medicalized by only allowing professionals of health to drive the campaign. Pate, who spoke to Kano during the workshop, said the message should also not be dominated by medical terminologies that will be complex and difficult for people to understand.
He said media professionals should be brought in to lead the campaign against vaccine advocates. Prof Pate explained that using the best communication tools and presenting messages in a simple, clear and concise way will appeal to people and lead them to understand and participate in immunization.
Pate also advised against letting the issue be highly politicized. “Some politicians will try to interfere and take advantage of the issue and start giving it their own interpretations.” He said, however, that active leadership involvement is needed at all levels to ensure the right messages are sent to people about vaccines and their benefits. “If you have good leadership at all levels of governance, then the follow-up will take the same form and probably correct information will be transmitted.”
Another aspect of the campaign, according to the professor, is community engagement. He said vaccine facilitators should try to identify and participate in community activities. “Through these community activities, we will be able to meet people of different sizes, those who are community leaders, opinion leaders, who can listen to you, believe in you and then be able to transmit the messages to the grassroots”.
Pate said community engagement remains the effective way to get people to accept vaccines. Additionally, Pate spoke about the importance of good media relations. He said journalists should see themselves as a leader and someone who is seen as someone with the knowledge and credibility to make people believe in the information they are disseminating. The Vice-Chancellor urged health sector authorities to synergize with the media and use the very useful communication skills at their disposal to dispel any misinformation and false narratives against the application of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
Understanding the Myth Behind COVID-19 Vaccines
An expert in immunopharmacology, Dr Murtala Jibril, in his presentation at the media workshop, attempted to explain some of the myths surrounding the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines. Jibril began by explaining the composition of the different types of vaccines. He said that a single vaccine provides 100% protection. According to him, the vaccine only strengthens an individual so that he is able to resist the attacks of infectious diseases.
He also explained the concept of herd immunity, saying it had to do with the idea of having a substantial population of a given location vaccinated in order to eliminate the virus. But Jibril said herd immunity does not offer complete protection for those who are not vaccinated. “It does not offer substantial protection to unvaccinated people.”
While rejecting the false belief that the vaccine alters the DNA of individuals, Jibril said: “These vaccines cannot alter the DNA of an individual because DNA and RNA are not even in one compartment. similar. It’s like someone is opening your house and someone is in your living room. And someone’s in the kitchen and you say someone in the kitchen is going to infect someone in the living room.
“DNA and RNA are not in the same compartment, so the COVID vaccine cannot alter our DNA and it is only RNA that is given. And it’s the RNA that carries the genetic information or the pattern that it ultimately translated by our body to produce the spike protein and it’s the spike protein that will now stimulate the immune response and develop antibodies. that protect us from the virus.
“Another misconception is that people think that when you get the vaccine it can cause infertility in women. This is not true. There is no similarity between the spike protein and the syncytin protein. We do not have what is labeled Cross Immunogenicity. Getting vaccinated with the vaccine cannot produce the antibodies that will attack the syncytin protein. “
Jibril urged Nigerians to take advantage of the availability of vaccines in the country to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves, save more lives and reduce the risk of serious illness from the mutant virus. Jibril, who is also a vaccine development expert in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Bayero University, Kano, has denied rumors that vaccines have a detrimental impact on female fertility, saying vaccines cannot transmit the COVID virus because they are not whole pathogenic vaccines.
The doctor explained that the earlier many Nigerians are vaccinated, the faster the country will be able to reduce the spread of the virus and, in turn, reduce the chances of mutating into several variants of the virus.
Amid concerns over a possible outbreak of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jibril said having many eligible Nigerians vaccinated will allow us to gain herd immunity and escape the dangers of the mutant COVID-19 virus. . According to him, the vaccine effectiveness and the effectiveness of vaccines tend to decrease. Jibril said that with the Mordena vaccine now in the country, Nigeria has one of the best COVID-19 vaccines, adding that studies have shown that 3 million lives are saved globally each year thanks to the vaccines. .
In essence, UNICEF communications expert Jeffrey Njoku said the purpose of the media dialogue session is to spark some sort of media activism that will bring down the negatives against the use of the COVID-19 vaccine. by the population.
The message conveyed by UNICEF is that getting vaccinated will save the lives of many people and prevent the country from relapsing into another costly health emergency. Getting a substantial percentage of Nigerians vaccinated is also essential to achieve herd immunity and reduce severe illness from COVID-19 in people.