As the world is battling to contain the spread of COVID- 19 through Vaccination, it is pertinent to examine some negative reports about the Virus and the vaccine that may negate efforts to curtail the pandemic. The outbreak of Corona Virus in Wuhan, China in December 2019, threw the entire world into confusion about the origin of the deadly virus. Some initial reports said the virus emanated from certain species of rats, mostly found in Wuhan Community in China. The anxiety raised by that claim hardly died down when some scientists came out with another notion that corona virus was not a natural phenomenon, but man- made. They alleged that the virus was a product of a deliberate laboratory scientific experiment carried out by some Scientists in China with the consent of the Chinese government.
In what appeared as a support to this claim, former US President Donald Trump, on many public occasions, referred to Corona Virus as ‘’ Chinese Virus’’. Similarly, another conspiracy theory linked Corona Virus to the invention of a new internet technology, known as 5G, by Bill Gates Foundation to improve access to internet services. Proponents of this theory believe that Corona Virus pandemic is a cover up for a plan to implant track-able microchips on humans, and that the Microsoft co-founder is behind it. The intensity of the controversy became so much that the Italian Parliament had to debate the issue, during which an independent member of Parliament, MP, called for Bill Gates to be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
However, there has not been any tangible proof to these claims so far. There are also fears that the whole COVID- 19 saga is an orchestrated soap-box, perpetrated by some powerful global billionaire business men to effect a ‘’New World Order’’. Perhaps, the most damaging of these negative stories is the one that puts a question mark on the efficacy and safety of the COVID 19 Vaccine. Those behind this theory claim that the Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine will either alter one’s DNA or give him the disease itself. They say the vaccine contains a microchip, placed there by the Bill Gates that links to cell towers via 5G technology for the purpose of population control.
As if that is not enough, some Clerics are also whipping up spiritual sentiments about the Vaccine, linking it to the biblical prophecy on an end- time anti Christ movement, known as ’Armageddon’. They believe that anyone that accepts the vaccine has already received the ‘’mark of the beast’’, which is 666, and that such a person is irredeemably hell- bound. There is no gainsaying the fact that these narratives have already poisoned the minds of the people against the vaccine. Coming at a time when countries have either commenced vaccinating their citizens against the virus, or are making plans to procure the Vaccine, there is no doubt that the conspiracy theories have had negative impact on global efforts to tackle the pandemic.
In Nigeria, for instance, the Presidential Task Force on COVID- 19 announced on Tuesday that the Vaccine would arrive in the country in the early weeks of February, and not January as earlier scheduled. Already, even before the arrival of the product, there are apprehensions among Nigerians about the potency and safety of the vaccine, based on the negative reports making rounds on the social media.
Apart from the fear about safety, many are of the view that accepting the vaccine is not a guarantee of immunity to COVID 19 infection. According to them, if the vaccine could protect people from contracting the virus, why then are they still advised to wear face masks even after being vaccinated? As plans are underway to procure the Vaccine, the Nigerian government needs to adequately educate the people on these issues to allay their fears.
Government must learn a lesson from what happened during the polio vaccination campaign sometime ago, when many Northern leaders kicked against it, claiming it was a ploy to check population growth. If the fight against COVID-19 must be won, government must work hard to remove every impediment and wrongly held notions about the virus and the vaccine. It is surprising that in spite of the high fatality rate, many people still see the existence of the virus as a make-up, a hoax and an avenue for some corrupt government officials to enrich themselves. Others raise questions on the huge sum of money earmarked by government to procure the vaccine.
It is the duty of relevant government agencies, like the PTF on COVID-19, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NAFDAC, National Orientation Agency and the Ministry of Health, to clear the air on these misgivings, and set the record straight to boost people’s confidence in whatever measures adopted to contain the pandemic. In countries where vaccination has already begun, top government officials are the first to come out publicly to take the vaccine. This, itself, is a strong message to the doubting ‘Thomases’ that the Vaccine is safe.
Therefore, as Nigeria battles with the second wave of the pandemic, government and relevant agencies must, as a matter of urgency, adopt measures to remove the doubt in the minds of most citizens about the prevalence of COVID 19, the genuineness and potency of the Vaccine. This will go a long way to flatten the COVID -19 Curve in Nigeria.