Beyond the Politics of COVID-19 Vaccines


By Edwin Uhara

Since the federal government made its intension to acquire and inoculate Nigerians with COVID-19 vaccines public, I have read several critical comments against the plan by some Nigerians opposing the move without proposing an alternative solution to the reality of the pandemic in our country.

Most of the opposing views are hinged on myths, conspiracy theories and blatant denial of the existence of the disease.

But one thing some of them failed to understand is the fact that the number of COVID-19 cases recorded daily by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is not just figures but fellow human beings with dreams, aspirations, visions and passion for both individual and collective successes.

They are the fathers who are breadwinners of their various families, mothers, sisters and brothers who worked hard daily to realise their ambition but got trapped in the web the dreaded pandemic.

As at the time of writing this piece, there were over 1,547 deaths caused by Coronavirus while there were over 127,024 confirmed cases with 24,619 active cases – these are citizens undergoing treatments in the various treatments centres across the federation; not talking of the huge resources spent in the treatment of 100,858 patients who recovered from the disease and have been discharged.

Nevertheless, now that the new strain of the virus – B117 found in the United Kingdom has been discovered in the country, only God knows what would have been the fate of Nigeria had President Muhammadu Buhari not signed the COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021 bill into law to contain the rapid spread of the disease in the country, especially the new variant, which spreads faster than the normal virus.

The new law, which the President signed by the virtue of Section 4 of the Quarantine Act, has made the use of facemask and adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions mandatory in any part of the federation irrespective of locality.

Part of the law reads, “In the exercise of the powers conferred upon me by Section 4 of the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2010 and all other powers enabling me in that behalf; and in consideration of the urgent need to protect the health and wellbeing of Nigerians in the face of the widespread and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, I, Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, hereby make the following Regulations.

“The first part of the new regulations imposes restrictions of gatherings and enforces a physical distancing of not less than two meters between persons at all times.

“The part also provides that no gathering of more than 50 persons shall hold in an enclosed space, except for religious purposes, in which case the gathering shall not exceed 50 per cent capacity of the space.

“All persons in public gatherings, whether in enclosed or open spaces, shall adhere to the provisions of Part two of these regulations.

“The provisions of these regulations may be varied by guidelines and protocols as may be issued, from time to time, by the PTF on COVID-19 on the recommendation of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

“The second part of the law addresses operations of public places like open markets, malls, supermarkets, shops, restaurants, hotels, event centres, gardens, leisure parks, recreation centres, motor parks and fitness centres.

“The law provides for wearing of face masks, hands washing, and the use of hand sanitisers, amongst other regulations.

“It stipulates a penalty of a fine or a prison of six months for offenders.”

Before now, the government strategy had been on interrupting the viral transmission of the disease; reducing its risk on the health system from being overwhelmed due to increased demand, minimizing mortality among most vulnerable parts of the population until the curve is finally flattened.

But the attitude of some Nigerians who live in total disobedience to non-pharmaceutical measures of wearing facemasks, observing social/physical distancing, avoiding crowded places, washing and sanitization of hands regularly, staying at home if there is no solid reason to go out among other prevention measures put in place by the government increased the viral transmission of the disease.

The second wave of the pandemic was however made worse by super-spreaders like the general and by-elections in some states, EndSARS protesters, Christmas and New Year festivities.

With the rising cases as well as the entrance of the B117 variant, the government cannot fold its arm to watch the predictions of those who said Africa would be littered with dead bodies to come true.

Nonetheless, it is instructive to note that the government started the battle from the stand-point of weakness with manpower shortages, inadequate facilities, poor equipment among others. But today, the reverse is the case as the difference is clear in terms of sample collection, testing and establishment of treatment centres with Intensive Care Units in all the states of the federation.

Thanks to the leadership and members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 who accepted the uneasy task despite the false and malicious accusations, media attacks, stereotyping and all sorts of unprintable names and allegations.

Probably, if only these set of Nigerians should get to know that what is now regarded as the PTF was just a piece of paper that was handed over to its Chairman, Mr Boss Mustapha, on March 9, 2020, maybe they will begin to appreciate the level of works done and support it in the challenging tasks ahead.

So, when the government says we should take personal responsibility and ‘say no’ to vaccine hesitancy, it is for our own good and safety because if the worst should happen, there would not be space in our hospitals to treat other ailments just as the Vanguard Newspaper in its editorial comment of January 25, 2021, said: ”That the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened our already bad situation in the health sector is an understatement. The rising cases of COVID-19 infections are fast overwhelming Nigeria’s healthcare system.’

“The situation has become so critical that in some tertiary health institutions, all non-emergency cases are being suspended in order to devote more time and resources to COVID-19 care.

“We have observed that hospital admission is now guaranteed only after deposits of huge sums of money. Some private health facilities demand a deposit of between N2 million and N10 million to admit a COVID-19 patient, apart from the cost of treatment which could be up to N300,000 per day.

“It is alarming that presently in Nigeria, a COVID-19 patient who requires oxygen would, on the average, need 8 to 16 cylinders of oxygen daily at the cost of N20,000 to N50,000 per cylinder.

“Such rising cost of healthcare in Nigeria, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has thus become a potential death sentence to the majority of Nigerians who live below the poverty line of less than $1 a day.” The editorial said.

Another reason that favours vaccination programme is the shortage of health professionals in the country.

According to the report, the ratio of Nigerian doctors to the population is 1: 2753. This means one doctor will be treating 2,753 patients should everyone be infected with the virus.

By all standards, the doctor-patient ratio in the country is inadequate because the World Health Organization recommendation is 1:600 which means one doctor should be responsible for 600 patients.

Like we all know, ideals are not always translated to reality especially in the least Developed Countries (LDC’s) because of so many factors.

Therefore, the question to those encouraging vaccine hesitancy is, should we allow politics to triumph over-vaccination programme that will save many lives or do we allow vaccination to prevail over politics knowing full well that advanced countries of the world like the United States with all the state of the arts medical facilities just recorded 433, 000 deaths with 25.8 million infected persons?

Whichever way we go, I want to end with a quote from the former United States President, Mr Barack Obama during his visit to Kenya.

He said: “We have not inherited this land from our forebears, we have borrowed it from our children. If we are enjoying the sacrifice made by others in the past, what sacrifice are we making to safeguard the lives of those who will come after us?”

As the nation prepares to roll out its own vaccination programme anytime soon, history will remember us if we encourage vaccination by the power of our example and not by the example of our power; apologies to President Biden.

Comrade Edwin Uhara is a UN-trained Negotiator and member APC Presidential Campaign Council in the last presidential election. He writes from Abuja

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