By Julius Enehikhuere
The arrival of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine to Nigeria has been a source of joy to many; especially those who watched President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on National Television take their first shots.
The public demonstration of receiving the vaccine was meant not only to create awareness but also remove doubts and fears in the minds of people who still do not believe in the existence of the virus.
This is because there has been a conspiracy theory making the rounds that the vaccine is dangerous for humans. The theory also claimed that the vaccine is to sterilise humanity to reduce the population of the world.
Nigeria received 3.94 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on March 2, 2021, to be given freely to people who are willing to take it. It is part of the 16 million doses to be delivered to Nigeria in the next few weeks.
Nigeria was the third African country after Ghana and Ivory Coast to receive the vaccine, made possible through a global COVID-19 Vaccine Access Programme.
With the arrival of the vaccine therefore, government, health practitioners and experts need to step up enlightenment to educate the public about the need for them to get inoculated.
There is the need to educate the public that the vaccine is safe, can boost one’s immunity and can protect against severe consequences. Dr Peter Akumba, a health practitioner, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that “we need to create awareness on the efficacy of the vaccine to defeat sceptics.
“There should be no politics around it, states should effectively take charge of the distribution and preservation of their share of the vaccine and create facility for it.”
Akumba further noted that the Federal Government got this right “and we need to commend all the health agencies and the COVID-19 committees.
“The Federal Government right from the beginning took the bull by the horn, seeing the pandemic as a preventable war. A war on the human race, a war of survival from the global village with a global pandemic, threatening to wipe us all away.”
Dr Obinna Aduba, another Medical Practitioner and a specialist in disease control, decried the attitude of some Nigerians toward the vaccine.
He said: “This is no time to play politics with such a global pandemic that has wiped out over two million people with over 500,000 from United States alone, and the fear of second and third outbreak being predicted.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the priority is to start vaccinating health workers at high risk of exposure, followed by older adults, before immunising the rest.
On people with allergies, especially people with history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine, they are advised not to take it.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 than non-pregnant women, and COVID-19 has been associated with increased risk of pre-term birth.
However due to insufficient data, WHO did not recommend the vaccination of pregnant women at this time.
In case a pregnant woman has an unavoidable risk of high exposure (e.g. a health worker), vaccination may be considered in discussion with their healthcare provider.
If a breastfeeding woman is part of a group (e.g. health workers) recommended for vaccination, vaccination can be offered. WHO did not recommend discontinuing breastfeeding after vaccination.
On children, WHO did not recommend vaccination below 16 years of age, even if they belong to a high-risk group.
On people with known medical conditions, the WHO says the vaccine has been found to be safe and effective in people with various conditions that are associated with increased risk of severe disease.
This includes hypertension, diabetes, asthma, pulmonary, liver or kidney disease, as well as chronic infections that are stable and controlled.
However, the WHO says, further studies are required for the impacts on immune- compromised persons.
“The interim recommendation is that immune-compromised persons who are part of a group recommended for vaccination may be vaccinated, though when possible, not before receiving information and counselling.
“Persons living with HIV are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease. Limited safety data exists on HIV-infected persons with well controlled disease from the clinical trials,” the WHO report said.
Experts also advised that known HIV-positive vaccine recipients should be informed, and when possible, counselled in relation to available data.
It’s also being recommended by the WHO that people who have or had COVID-19 already can be offered, including people who had COVID-19 in the past.
But given the limited vaccine supply, according to the organisation, individuals may wish to defer their own COVID-19 vaccination for up to six months from the time of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“As more data becomes available on duration of immunity after infection, this time period may be adjusted. “Testing for prior infection is not recommended for the purpose of vaccine decision-making, the agency added.
One area of interest addressed by the WHO is the plight of international travellers. At present, WHO says it does not support the introduction of requirements for proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for international travellers as condition for exiting or entering a country or for travelling internationally.
WHO’s interim guidance on international travel during the pandemic is clear on this.
On dosage, a protective effect starts to develop 12 days after the first dose, but full protection requires two doses which WHO recommends be administered with a 21 to 28-day interval.
However, experts say additional research is needed to understand longer-term potential protection after a single dose.
They are also of the view that the vaccines will not end COVID-19 alone but will boost immune, as safe and effective vaccines will be a game- changer.
But for the foreseeable future, they advise that people must continue to wear masks, observe physical distance, avoid crowds and apply other health measures.
Being vaccinated doesn’t mean that people can throw caution to the wind and put themselves at risk, particularly because it is still not clear, the degree to which the vaccine can protect not only against disease but also against infection and transmission.
WHO says that due to the large variety of COVID-19 vaccines based on very different platform technologies, the organisation is looking at vaccines as they are authorised by highly competent national regulatory authorities available in sufficient supply to address the needs of many countries.
The agency also says it will allow countries to find the products most suitable for their circumstances.