PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari and vice president Professor Yemi Osinbajo are to receive shots of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccines this Saturday as part of a public relations exercise to convince Nigerians that vaccination is safe.
Earlier this week, Nigeria received her first batch of the vaccine with 4m doses flown in from India and the federal government has begun discussing distribution with the 36 states of the federation. In some circles, however, there are fears about the safety of the vaccine, especially given that the experience with Pfizer in Kano State.
In 1996 Pfizer carried out trials of an experimental meningitis drug called Trovan which had adverse side effects, leading to the deaths of 11 children. Forced to accept liability for the deaths, four families received $175,000 each from a $35m fund created under the settlement reached between Pfizer and the Kano State government.
With such memories still fresh in the minds of Nigerians, some religious leaders have expressed fears that the new Covid-19 vaccine could be dangerous too. However, Dr Faisal Shuaib, the executive director of Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), said there is nothing to fear and with the president and vice president receiving vaccinations, Nigerians should have confidence in the vaccine.
Dr Shuaib said: “The next step in the vaccination programme given that we’ve now received the vaccines is a launch that will be taking place at the National Hospital on Friday. The time scheduled for that launch is 10am and it will be conducted by the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 Boss Mustapha.
“The plan is to vaccinate the frontline health workers that work in the treatment centre of the National Hospital. Those will be the first people just like we’ve communicated that frontline health workers will be the first people to take the vaccines.
“After that, the plan is to vaccinate Mr President, Mr Vice President and strategic leaders on Saturday. Again, we are hopeful that when Nigerians see leaders like Mr President and Mr Vice President take the vaccines, it will increase their confidence around the safety of the vaccines.
“As you are well aware that even before the vaccines arrived Nigeria, there is a lot of hesitancy, it is a global phenomenon. Vaccine hesitancy is similar no matter where you are, you have to provide the right information and to those people who have questions, we cannot dismiss their cynicism.
“It is our responsibility as public health workers not to only offer the vaccines but do the extra work in terms of providing the resources that are needed and to convince people that these vaccines are safe. He also enjoined Nigerians who wish to receive the vaccines to register on the agency’s website.