As the Federal government’s December deadline for government workers to get vaccinated approaches, the Nigerian Infectious Diseases Society, NIDS, has said that decisions on health especially on COVID-19 response should be an informed decision based on local evidence and not a copy and paste approach where what is being done in Europe and American will be implemented in the country.
The Infectious disease experts also urged the federal government to ensure that its mandatory vaccination drive does not breach the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
Speaking at the 9th Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference (AGSM) of the Nigerian Infectious Diseases Society (NIDS) in Lagos, the President of NIDS, Prof Dimie Ogoina noted that although Nigeria is currently launching a massive vaccination drive which is commendable there was the need for the government to invest in health and health security.
He said instead of compelling people to take vaccines it was necessary to intensify awareness of COVID-19 vaccines.
“The society and even government have the responsibility to generate local evidence that will inform all our decisions and strategy. There is also a challenge of vaccine hesitancy and rejections among the populace. We believe that government and everybody must improve the awareness on the benefit of vaccination before we get to the point of mandatory vaccination.
“There is a need to intensify awareness creation, advocacy on the benefit of vaccination because there is a lot of myths and misconceptions out there. We must all collectively help to dispel them,” he insisted.
Continuing, Ogoina said mandatory vaccination is an option that is available to all governments but the government has a responsibility to protect the health of the populace if there is a situation where the actions and inactions of certain persons will expose others to certain diseases.
Government has a responsibility to take action but mandatory vaccination is like the extreme to promote the acceptance of any public intervention. Government should ensure that everybody is aware of the benefits of vaccination and fully aware of the side effects of vaccination. Awareness creation should be done in states, federal and at the local level. If that is done, then there is an option for mandatory vaccination but should be done in such a way that it does not breach the fundamental rights of everybody and that is what we are saying.”
The Professor of Medicine and Infectious Disease at the Niger Delta University, also noted that the pandemic has revealed the need to invest in the public health system because over time the public health system has been neglected.
“Another lesson is to invest in our laboratory capacity. When we started the response we had only 4 laboratories to diagnose COVID. Currently, we have laboratories in every state. “Other lessons we learnt, is to improve our public health workforce. We have situations where we pay people to volunteer to care for COVID-19 patients. That should not be. We should motivate them to do the job, have compensation and life insurance not necessarily to pay them to do the job.
We need to improve the number of our public health workforce so that when we have an outbreak, we will know that there are certain people who are dedicated to doing so. And their primary responsibility is to respond to a public health threat.” He said the devastating COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and at the same time transformed the operations of health systems and the response to disease outbreaks across the globe.
Stating that the world is at risk of the 4th wave on account of the rising number of cases being reported in Europe, he said: “As we battle the challenge of COVID-19, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases such as Lassa fever, Yellow Fever, Cholera, Monkeypox, among others, as well as various endemic infectious diseases such as Malaria, Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, antimicrobial resistance and many others, continue to threaten public health, especially in a developing country with weak health systems such as Nigeria.
The theme of the conference is “Implementing a national vaccination strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. COVID-19 vaccination is now recognised as the best strategy to halt the pandemic, and all countries are targeting high COVID-19 vaccination coverage to protect their populations.
“However, production, availability, deployment, and acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines remain a prevailing challenge for all countries.”
Speaking, the Chairman organising committee, and an Infectious Disease Physician with Lagos University Teaching hospital, LUTH, Dr Iorhen Akase said the strongest hope of getting out of the pandemic with as little casualty as possible was a strong vaccination programme.
He said the government compelling approach to get vaccinated was not a good option, hence, the need for continuous advocacy, awareness creation.
Stating that no Nigerian want to contract COVID or have complications, he said there was the need for government to address the cause of distrust in the process of vaccination and the reasons why people are rejecting the vaccines. “It is not easy to say the vaccine can help you. Why are people having hesitancy, can we address these issues, are they real or fake?. Government need to do more of advocacy and try to address the issues that we have now than compelling people.
“The Federal government needs to sit down and have a holistic approach that is more than directing people to go and take a vaccine. Also, the issue of availability and access must be addressed. Akase further encouraged people to get vaccinated.
Speaking, an infectious disease physician at the University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, Dr Kemi Adekanmbi said clinical trials done have spelt out the efficacy and safety of the vaccines, adding that no chemical compound that may not have side effects whether it is a drug or vaccines.
She said the side effects of the vaccine were not enough to stop people from not taking the vaccine because “we are certain that they are safe and effective.”
“The vaccine does not mean you cannot get exposed but we must continue to wear our masks and wash our hands and observe other protective measures and in the event, we caught the disease the vaccine is there to mitigate the disease.