Yerima Peter Tarfa Ph.D.
Today the world is facing a serious public health crisis, seen as the worst after the flu pandemic of 1918. Since the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus in Wuhan, in Hubei Province of China, back in October 2019, the world has never been the same again. The very contagious disease codenamed COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020.
As of the first week of November 2021, it had infected over 247 million people and claimed the lives of more than five million people globally. Statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that the disease has so far spread to more than 210 countries.
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According to medical experts, COVID-19 spreads between people when an infected person is in close contact with another person. It spreads from an infected person’s mouth or nose when they cough, sneeze, breathe heavily or sing, in the process, releasing liquid particles of different sizes, ranging from larger ‘respiratory droplets’ to smaller ‘aerosols’.
The disease has an incubation period of between 2 and 14 days after exposure, within which an infected person can transmit the virus to a non-infected person. The symptoms include sneezing, coughing, fever, breathing difficulties, tiredness, and loss of taste or smell. The virus can cause pneumonia, multiple organ failure, and in severe cases, death.
The first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria was reported on February 27, 2020. Since the report of the index case in Lagos State, the number of cases has increased greatly across the 36 states of the federation. Nigeria has witnessed the first, second, and third waves of the pandemic.
In the absence of drug treatment for COVID-19, the WHO and health authorities at national and sub-national levels recommended Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) for the containment of the disease. These interventions were targeted at restraining transmission between humans, slowing down the spread of the disease and thereby, reducing the burden on the healthcare system. They include social distancing, hygiene practices, restriction of movement, patient isolation, wearing of protective gear, and public health information and communication.
The lockdowns and other restrictive measures resulted in grave socio-economic consequences in many countries including Nigeria, affecting the world of work adversely, both in the formal and informal sector. Quoting the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Reuters reported that 20 percent of workers in Nigeria lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the public sector, federal civil servants from salary grade level 12 down have been working from home since the outbreak of the pandemic, unlike most of their counterparts in the private sector who were laid off. Fortunately, the tide of lay-off in the private sector was reversed due to a memorandum of understanding signed between the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and Trade Union Congress (TUC) on 15th June 2020.
Whilst in the past it took years to develop vaccines for epidemics and pandemics, courtesy of an unprecedented combination of global collaboration, funding, and political will, the Covid-19 vaccines were developed at record speed. The debilitating effects of the pandemic sparked off the fastest vaccine race in the history of the world, culminating in the development of several viable vaccine options, such as Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines.
The main purpose of developing the vaccines is to help humans develop immunity against the virus, in order to limit its negative impacts on health, attendant socio-economic disruptions, and threat to national and global communities.
Notwithstanding the challenges of inequity in vaccine distribution among the developed and developing countries, the vaccination of human beings against the disease has already progressed, with more than five billion vaccines so far administered globally. In some countries, evidence of vaccination is now a passport or visa to enjoy some things that others may not be able to enjoy.
But, in Nigeria, the vaccination rate has been very low as a result of vaccine hesitancy. According to WHO statistics, about 8.8 million vaccine doses have been administered on November 2, 2021, in a country with a population of over 200 million people. This is quite abysmal.
In a bid to reverse this trend, the Federal Government has mandated all civil servants to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The order was given last October by Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) who doubles as the Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19.
According to Mustapha, from December 1, 2021, workers who do not show proof of vaccination would be barred from entering their places of work in all locations within Nigeria and our foreign missions. The SGF further disclosed that an appropriate service-wide advisory/circular will be issued to guide the process.
It is important to point out at this juncture that Nigeria is not the only country that has attempted to make the Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for civil servants. Early in October, Canada announced that it would place unvaccinated federal employees on unpaid leave. The federal employees were asked to declare their vaccination status through an online portal by October 29.
Based on the foregoing, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment is appealing to Nigerian workers to avail themselves of the opportunity created by the federal government through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency to get free vaccination against the Covid-19 disease. From all indications, the pandemic is far from over. The virus has continued to undergo mutations, developing new variants in the process.
Since the vaccines have been proved to be effective, vaccination can keep us from getting ill and less likely to spread the virus to others. They can also stop us from getting seriously ill, even if we contract the virus. They help in preventing hospitalisation and deaths, thereby protecting and supporting our health system.
Tarfa writes from Abuja