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What to know about COVID-19 vaccine

The novel COVID-19’s equally novel vaccine awaited by the federal government is generating reactions across the country. Some Nigerians believe the vaccine may not be…

The novel COVID-19’s equally novel vaccine awaited by the federal government is generating reactions across the country.

Some Nigerians believe the vaccine may not be safe and stress that it should be checked by our experts and administered on government officials first to ascertain its safety and efficacy.

Experts, however, said the fears expressed are based on myths and conspiracy theories. They, therefore, advise the people to accept the anti-coronavirus vaccine without any qualms.

Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire had earlier revealed that the federal government plans to vaccinate 20 million people against the virus.

He said health workers would be vaccinated first, then the vulnerable and those with chronic illnesses.

But with ongoing controversy in the country around the COVID-19 vaccine, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), the agency in charge of national immunisation has said there is nothing to worry about on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

The Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said government has good intentions for the people hence the need to bring in the vaccine to halt transmission of COVID infection in communities across the country.

During a virtual media sensitisation meeting on COVID-19 vaccine introduction in Nigeria recently, he said, “one thing that we are sure of right now is that the vaccine is about 95 per cent effective.”

He said the aim of the vaccine, which has been certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and will still go through the approval of the National Agency for the Control of Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC), is to halt transmission of COVID-19 in the country.

Health workers first priority

Dr. Faisal said priority would be given to health workers in the first phase of the vaccine’s administration because they are the ones that are in direct contact with cases, especially those that work in isolation units.

He said he would like to see a situation where the president, vice president and the Secretary to the Government of the federation (SGF) and critical leaders took the vaccine in the full glare of the public to demonstrate that the vaccine was safe.

The Director of Disease Control and Immunisation at NPHCDA, Dr. Bassey Okposen, also explained that the main objective of the vaccine introduction is to interrupt transmission in communities across the country.

“The vaccine would be given free of charge in four phases, first to the health workers, second remaining health workers and people from 50 years and above, third phase, people with underlying ailment and the last phase, other target groups.

“We want to assure Nigerians that government has good intentions for them because she does not want anybody to die from COVID-19. We did it with polio and we are now certified free. We did it with tuberculosis and it has been reduced to the barest minimum,” he said.

Busting myths

A renowned virologist and immediate past chairman of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences, Prof. Oyewale Tomori debunked some myths about the vaccine.

Asked why people need to be vaccinated, he said, “It is strongly recommended that people are vaccinated against COVID-19 because the vaccine will prevent you from getting sick or dying. It will also protect your loved ones and your community.”

He said vaccines cannot infect you but rather protect you from being infected. “Once your vaccination doses are complete, you become protected,” he said.

On the safety of the vaccines, he said, “Before a vaccine is certified, it must receive approval from WHO. Here in Nigeria, in addition to WHO approval, all vaccines including COVID-19 are certified by NAFDAC. Even when in use, NAFDAC continues to monitor the vaccine to ensure it causes no harm.”

Asked if safety procedures and standards were not compromised to develop and produce COVID-19 vaccine in less than one year, he said standard was not compromised nor were safety procedures ignored in producing COVID-19 vaccine.

“It is a huge misconception to assume that COVID-19 vaccine started when the pandemic began. Prior to the development of COVID-19 vaccine, scientists have experimented and perfected a fast and flexible method plug and play to revolutionalise,” he said.

Professor Tomori added that studies are yet to be conducted to ascertain the safety of the vaccine on pregnant and lactating mothers.

He said COVID-19 vaccines are also safe for people that have underlying medical conditions, such as heart diseases, lung diseases, diabetes, cancer among others.

People with these conditions are more likely to get very sick form COVID-19, he said.

The expert stated that COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any harmful substance or micro-chip, adding that all vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, are manufactured under strict compliance with WHO guidelines.

He said COVID-19 vaccines do not alter DNA. According to him, it triggers an immune response that will protect your body against the virus if encountered. “Once you and your community members are protected, the chances of the spread of the disease are reduced,” he added.

He said NPHCDA recommends that you get vaccinated even if you have already had COVID-19, because you can be infected more than once.

Asked if the vaccine will hurt or make one sick, he said, “Mild side effects may occur as in any other vaccination. However, they are signs that the vaccine is working to build your immunity. This does not mean you have COVID-19. If they do not go away in a few days, see your doctor.”

He said people still need to wear a facemask and continue to practice preventive measures after vaccination. “Wear your face mask, frequently wash your hands with soap and running water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, observe physical distancing, avoid large gatherings and unnecessary travel to stop community transmission.

“This is because getting the vaccine doesn’t stop you from getting exposed to someone who has been infected but the vaccination and development of immunity will stop the infection from progressing to diseases hence, you still need to practice the preventive measures,” he advised.