Despite the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines to curb the pandemic, there seems to be a daily increase in number of cases which experts have attributed to people’s attitude towards the vaccines. These negative attitudes are largely attributed to the myths, negative perceptions, misinformation and fallacies surrounding the vaccines. Speaking recently from the White House, US President, Joe Biden, said that the spread of the new variant of COVID-19, known as the ‘Delta Variant, which experts have described as “highly contagious,” would be worsened by a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He was trying to address some of the theories spreading mostly in conservative circles that the jabs are unsafe. Back here in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, the case is not different. Hence, governments and medical experts are not relenting in their effort to ensure that the myriad of myths, falsehood and negative perceptions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines are eradicated so as to pave way for their effective administration to curb the spread of the virus, especially the new variant. Among the organizations that have risen to fight some of these myths is the Plateau State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). As RALPH MADUGU reports, during its 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM), the Association devoted a larger part of the 3 days attempting to clear some of the wrong perceptions around the vaccines through the theme, “Demystifying the Myth Around the COVID-19 Vaccine.”
The Plateau State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association at its 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Plateau State, Central Nigeria, assembled critical stakeholders, including the civil society, media and other healthcare providers in an effort to clear the countless myths and misinformation that have trailed the COVID-19 vaccines and hindered their effective administration.
In his remarks, Plateau State Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Innocent Emmanuel, described the theme of the AGM as the “most appropriate topic for discussion, as we battle a disease whose biology we are yet to understand as it continues to exert a heavy toll on lives and livelihoods.
The NMA Chairman stated that the “rampaging virus” is compounded by a challenge of myths that if not demystified will leave “a trail of regrets and consequences of ravaging proportions.”
Dr. Emmanuel, whose remarks also captured an account of his stewardship, disclosed that in the last one year the Association evolved ideas to improve the welfare of members by enthroning what he termed “participatory brotherhood,” adding that for the first time in its history, the current NMA leadership put in place 12 committees by mobilizing more than 170 with responsibilities thereby giving them a sense of belonging.
He also said that, for the first time, the NMA, through its Land Acquisition Committee, mobilized members to procure plots of land in Bassa LGA at affordable rates.
According to Dr. Emmanuel, the NMA’s drive towards improving the welfare of its members informed the introduction of an end of year package and for the first time introduced the NMA Identity Card for members.
He stated that, in order to further better the lot of doctors, the NMA leadership introduced at the state and national levels the Computer Based Test (CBT) Mock Exams for Resident Doctors which had paid off as the pass rate of the Medical Post Graduate/Residency exams improved at the National Post Graduate College of Medicine, the West African College of Physicians and the West African College of Surgeons.
“During the pendency of our tenure, we brought to a logical and favourable conclusion, the court case between NMA Plateau State and the University of Jos. This case has been raging for more than 10 years (since 2011) and proceeded from the High Court to the Court of Appeal.
“The Court case has affirmed that Professors of Medicine and Dentistry I the University of Jos are eminently qualified to aspire and assume the position of the Vice Chancellor of the institution. This has also served as a precedence nationwide for any such issue that may arise elsewhere in this regard.”
Earlier in his opening address, Chairman of the occasion and immediate past Vice Chancellor of University of Jos, Prof. Seddi Sabastian Maimako, said that COVID-19 had revealed the true state of the national as well the global healthcare systems, their limitations as well as the pivotal role the non-conventional media plays in spreading information, misinformation and disinformation.
He stated that the pandemic “has tested the strength of our institutions, and the limits of trust between the governed and the government of the day; further threatening to jeopardize the possibility of achieving the World Health Organization’s Global Health Agenda 2030 which is the attainment of health for all.”
Prof. Maimako maintained that the global commitment towards the development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines was a huge step forward in the global efforts to end the pandemic or at least curb community transmission of the virus but lamented that, despite these concerted efforts, some persons had remained skeptical and hesitant to avail themselves to get vaccinated.
Said he: “Indeed various reasons have been postulated as to why people reject the COVID-19 vaccination but accept other routine vaccines for our children? The misinformation about COVID-19 especially in the social media has been designed to mislead people.
“The experts have consequently invited us today for an interactive discussion. I believe justice will be done to this matter that has taken a worrisome dimension.”
In a presentation on the theme of the AGM “COVD-19 Vaccines: Demystifying the Myths, Decrypting the Facts, Dealing with Emerging Concerns,” a virologist and a Senior Lecturer with the Department of Microbiology at the Bingham University, Dr. Olugbenga Adeola, urged members of the public not to allow sentiments to rob them of the benefits derivable from vaccines that could help protect them against diseases.
Addressing some common myths around the COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Adeola refuted the widely held myth that the vaccines could be used for the manipulation or alteration of DNA, stating that none of the approved vaccines had the capacity to neither manipulate nor alter the recipient’s genome.
On the widely held view that vaccines cause magnetic and electromagnetic reactions and contained tracking devices, Dr. Adeola said: “Currently approved COVID-19 vaccines neither contain tracking devices nor cause magnetic/electromagnetic reaction. No COVID-19 vaccines contain traces of iron, neckel, cobalt, lithium or rare earth alloys and track microchips, microelectronic, graphene, nanowires or electrodes.”
He noted that serious adverse reactions after COVID-19 vaccination are rare, adding that, contrary to widely held notions that the vaccines were hurriedly developed, they were developed, tested and approved under “emergency use authorization” because the world was in a period of pandemic.
“COVID-19 is not a mirage. It is killing people. Let us change our minds and be objective about the vaccine. Let us open our minds, be objective and remain objective.”
The AGM was attended by medical students from the University of Jos. The event featured questions and answer sessions, paper presentations on data management and preparations for statistical analysis, soft wares for statistical analysis, basic descriptive statistics and medical community and entrepreneurship, among others.
Other activities held during the meeting included business meetings and panel discussions during which panelists drawn from religious circles, traditional leaders as well the civil society gave various perspectives on COVID-19 pandemic as well as the vaccines.
Among the panelists were the Plateau State Chairman of the CAN, Chairperson of Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Gbong Gwom Jos and Prof. Yusuf A. Yusuf of the Department of Islamic Studies, University of Jos.