By Samuel Nwosu
When the news hit Nigeria of the production of vaccines to combat the Covid19 pandemic, it was received with huge disbelief that quickly turned into outright rejection. The airwaves and rumour mills were agog with different stories; from seemingly authoritative sources and even supposed global platforms. Almost at the same time, the news was that these vaccines were a huge conspiracy by the Chinese, United States, Europe; all against each other and in cahoots together, against the African continent. The alleged aim; to reduce the population of the black world and provide a market for economic rejuvenation.
It didn’t help that conflicting information was flung out almost on hourly basis by different global agencies, nor that it seemed the virus was already contained by the Africa’s peculiar (read special) genetic makeup. Neither did it help that for most Nigerians, the government was totally untrustworthy and this mistrust was exacerbated when stored palliatives were found warehoused all over the country while the populace were dying of starvation.
Let’s not even utter the word ‘Pfizer’ which is so much hated in the north of the country; result of a failed clinical trial and drug experimentation to combat the outbreak of meningitis in 1996, which killed over 15,000 people with Kano as the epicenter. The sum of $75million was later paid by Pfizer as compensation.
That was the background when the vaccines were brought into the country. So picture the deep apathy towards the vaccination exercise. And that apathy has manifested itself in several ways. For most people, it’s already a done deal that there would be adverse effects; it is just a case of praying to a higher divine power and undertaking some strong medication to combat whatever adverse effects show up. And for the majority, it was a necessary evil as it is only with a vaccine card can they travel outside the country (a whole new vaccine card cartel has sprouted up. But this is for another article).
Till today, there still appears that lingering doubt over the efficacy of the vaccine shots. It came as a rumour, gaining much traction over time. Driven by the aforementioned Pfizer failed drug trials and fueled by the seeing incompetency of the Nigerian healthcare sector, these rumours refused to abate, despite all seeming indications to the the contrary and even the evidence of personal vaccination. And in more ways than one, this has really impacted on the expectations of the populace and the rate of acceptance by the public.
The Lagos state government, through the Ministry if health, has done so much to ensure that most of residents get the vaccine. While it would be absolutely impossible to get everyone vaccinated, according to the Lagos state commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, if herd immunity could be achieved, then it would ensure that the virus has no third act to follow through.
From an initial 88 centers in the first phase, the government has established 188 centres to ensure that vaccines were closer to the people and reduce community infections. And the centers are doing a brisk job of attending to residents who register on the APP. But so many respondents have different experiences of the process of getting the vaccine.
At the Festac local council headquarters in Lagos, it was a first come first served arrangement as there were three canopies of residents being attended to by nurses. This is because of the press of people coming to take the vaccine shots.
Those who registered for the vaccine at the Mile 2 center had the Sun to give them shade and when it rains, then they have to cuddle involuntarily to avoid the rains. The Vaccination center at Festac First gate, at the Amuwo Odofin Triage Center fares just a bit better as they have a whole hospital ground. This is because most of the centers lacked enough shade, chairs and proper separation from those who had taken the vaccine and those who hadn’t.
And for most respondents, it wasn’t all a joy ride as most have to wait for hours, regardless of age, before being attended to. Not through any actual fault of the vaccination officers on call, but due to a lack of data and intermittent network failures which stopped fast updates on the app. This was especially worrisome as so many of those at the centers didn’t know how to update their records and it wasn’t up to the nurses to do this for them. This was exemplified by Sunday Idowu (not real name) who was at the council gates by 6am with friends but had to go back home to get registered on the registration app before coming back. And as at 2pm, with his number 24 queue number was still not attended to. However, he was determined to get the shot and stated his readiness to stay the whole day if need be, even though he honestly felt it was taking too long.
His angst mirrors that of Adeola Adelaja, who complained to this writer that he was at a particular center the day before but was told they couldn’t attend to him as there was no data and he should come back the next day. 12noon the next day, he was sitting in the sun, waiting to get his first dose while watching people from the sidelines come up to be vaccinated. On investigation however, the delay was still down to the fact that the network was acting up, and not really out of any ‘connection vaccination’.
He did still say he would get his family to come take the vaccine shots as the process was still much more preferable that what he was used to with regard to public efforts and that it was free, which remains a trump card for him. And even Idowu said he was going to ensure his family gets the shots, as he was now sure there were no adverse effects, seeing as how his father had taken the first dose and was happy
But for Mrs Patricia Ifeoma (not real name), it was a different experience altogether as she narrowly missed death due to complications from her first dose of the Moderna Covid19 vaccine in Lagos.
According to her ‘I felt dizzy all of a sudden and fainted. When I was revived, I could barely stand, felt headaches and pain all over my body’. Mrs Patricia who is a military personnel said she took painkillers, vitamin c and lots of fruits. She was now taken home by a colleague. Thankfully, the very next day, she was certified healthy.
But that experience, while assuring her of the efficacy of the drugs has also given her pause over allowing or advising her loved ones to take the vaccine.
Her case is not unique as several respondents have stated they felt such adverse effects from the vaccine. But they all, mostly survived and overcame the effects.
But not everyone was lucky enough to survive the effects of the vaccine as the family of Pa Davidson Bodunde found out recently. At the same center as Mrs Patricia (coincidence?), Pa Davidson was also given a moderna dose; two days later he was dead of complications from adverse effects.
What is so heart-rending of this episode is that his death could have been avoided or delayed; but due to the alleged insistence of the septuagenarian and an alleged approval from a ministry of health official in Lagos State, he was given the jab which ultimately cost him his life. From investigations carried out, it turned out that Pa Davidson had just been discharged, not quite a few days prior, from the hospital, here he had been on admission for over a month. While not very clear, he was said to have been suffering from elevated blood pressures, health palpitations and exhibited signs of co-morbidity. Unfortunately, his personal doctor was not on call and having access to a family friend at the ministry, Pa Davidson made the call that would eventually claim his life as the nurses were given permission to give him the dose. His hands and feet got swollen, he had trouble breathing and while he was being hurriedly driven to the hospital, died on the way.
A few questions arise from this experience. While did the health official authorize the jab when he was not the deceased’s personal doctor? Does this imply that the nurses on duty could be ordered by a remote official to vaccinate someone even after they, based on their case judgement, found it untenable? These and other questions require answers. Efforts to get the family of the deceased and even the nurses at the vaccination center to disclose the identity proved abortive.
But this remains one of the many reported cases of death due to Covid19. At the moment of writing this piece, the NCDC platform attributes 2647 deaths to Lagos. How many are from the virus itself and what number is from adverse effects could not be immediately ascertained.
What is evident however, is that the Vaccines are relatively free and even those who have suffered adverse effects, with no underlying co-morbidity, typically are well after no more than a few hours or within 24 hours. The vast majority of their symptoms appear to range from dizziness, intermittent headaches, pain at the vaccination spot and increased belly movements.
But these incidents appear to be ripples on a calm surface of public acceptance and immunity over adverse effects of the Covid19 vaccine. So many have taken the cautious approach; staggering the shots for each family member over the various phases while others have taken the direct route of getting all loved ones vaccinated at the same time.
What is clear, however, is that almost all those spoken to believed more in the assurances from friends or associates who are health workers than n any government sponsored advisory. And the fight against the virus continues!