By Iyemah David
The Nigeria Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (NCDC) has called on states affected by diphtheria to launch extensive education campaigns to tackle vaccine hesitancy.
The Director-General, NCDC, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, said this in an interview with newsmen on Sunday in Abuja.
Dr Adetifa defined diphtheria as a serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium called corynebacterium species affecting the nose, throat and sometimes, the skin of an individual.
He said people most at risk of contracting diphtheria were children and adults who had not received any or a single dose of the pentavalent vaccine (a diphtheria toxoid-containing vaccine).
According to him, those likely to be affected are people who live in a crowded environment, in areas with poor sanitation and healthcare workers exposed to suspected or confirmed cases of diphtheria.
On transmission, NCDC added that the disease spreads easily among people through direct contact with infected people, droplets from coughing or sneezing and contact with contaminated clothing and objects.
The symptoms of diphtheria include fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, red eyes (conjunctivitis) and neck swelling.
In severe cases, NCDC said that a thick grey or white patch appeared on the tonsils and/or at the back of the throat associated with difficulty in breathing.
The director general, however, said in Nigeria, vaccine hesitancy had been a significant obstacle in achieving widespread immunisation coverage.
“This hesitancy is fuelled by various factors, including lack of awareness, cultural and religious beliefs, fear of side effects, and mistrust in the healthcare system.
“However, efforts are underway to debunk myths and misconceptions surrounding vaccines and address these issues head-on through the national infodemic management team,” he said.
Dr Adetifa said that campaigns by affected states should be aimed at providing accurate information about vaccines, their benefits, and the rigorous testing and safety protocols they undergo.
“By disseminating this knowledge, individuals can make informed decisions based on scientific evidence rather than misinformation.
“And, crucially engaging healthcare professionals play a vital role in addressing vaccine hesitancy.”
According to him, health professionals should be empowered with up-to-date knowledge and communication skills to effectively address concerns and provide evidence-based information to the public.
He said by leveraging their expertise, they could play pivotal role in dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding vaccines.
According to him, community engagement is another key strategy in tackling vaccine hesitancy.
He said community leaders, religious leaders, and influencers should be involved in vaccine education efforts to help debunk myths within their communities.
“Their influence and trust can help bridge the gap between scepticism and acceptance, ensuring that accurate information reaches even the most hesitant individuals,” he said.
Adetifa said digital platforms were paramount in today’s digital age.
“These platforms should be leveraged to share accurate information, debunk myths, and address concerns promptly.
“By reaching a wide audience through these channels, the message of vaccine safety and efficacy will be amplified and reach those who need it the most,” he said.
He said that transparency and accountability were also crucial in addressing vaccine hesitancy.
“Ensuring transparency in vaccine distribution to every community of your states, safety monitoring, and adverse event reporting builds trust in the healthcare system.
“By being open and accountable, concerns about the healthcare system can be addressed, and individuals can feel confident in their decision to receive vaccines,” he said.
The director general said states would be able to address the vaccine hesitancy through a combination of vaccine education campaigns, engagement with healthcare professionals and community leaders.
Other avenues, according to him, will be through utilisation of local media platforms and transparency in the healthcare system.
He said that by debunking myths and providing accurate information, the goal was to empower individuals to make informed decisions and contribute to increasing vaccine acceptance and coverage rates in their states.
According to him, the grim aftermath of the diphtheria outbreak serves as a stark testament to the critical significance of vaccination.
“We still have above a million children who haven’t had a single vaccination, making it the second-largest group of its kind globally.”
He said it was imperative that everyone should unite and promptly work to significantly diminish this figure.
“Every Nigerian child is entitled to safeguarding against avoidable illnesses. There’s no room for negotiation on this matter.
“Every parent wants to do what is best for their children. We know about the importance of car seats, baby gates, and other ways to keep them safe.
“But did you know that one of the best ways to protect our children is to make sure they have all of their vaccinations,” he said.
He called on state governors to ensure routine immunisations were strengthened through community engagement and ensure health systems avoid similar outbreaks in the future.
The NCDC boss said that preventing diphtheria depended almost completely on giving the diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccine to children (DTaP) and non-immunised adolescents and adults.