The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has said that the decision to have the President, Vice President, and Governors as the first set of people to take the Covid-19 vaccine is to puncture the conspiracy theories going around about safety of vaccines.
Mohammed also said that the government owes it as a point of duty to do a lot of enlightenment campaigns to neutralise the effect of the conspiracies and remove fears from the mind of the people.
The minister who spoke in Abuja during a chat with some selected journalists also pleaded with religious leaders, political leaders and elites to join in assuring their followers that the government would not introduce unsafe vaccines.
He said the government has set the target of vaccinating at least 70% of Nigerians in the next two years, as vaccines remain the only sure way to protect the people.
He however blamed the non-adherence to COVID-19 protocol for the recent surge in the number of cases in the country.
He said, “The crux of the matter is that many Nigerians still live in denial. They don’t believe there is COVID-19. And for many of them, when we announce that so many people have tested positive and so many have died, these things just remain as figures and numbers until when those who are close to them are victims that they begin to realise that this is a serious matter. This is why every successful and celebrated Nigerians, who has gone through this and has come out of it, has shared their experience and I say this is not a joke. In the first instance we don’t have the health infrastructure to support this kind of total recklessness on the part of Nigerians.
“On the conspiracy theories on the part of Nigerians, more than the vaccines, we need Nigerians to understand that the Non Pharmaceutical Intervention is still the most effective way of interrupting and slowing down the infection in Nigeria and consequently slowing down the mortality rate. Nigerians also must appreciate the fact that they must continue to take personal responsibility- we are not talking about anything that is external, but what can affect them. If you go out today, one in 20 Nigerians are not wearing a mask and out of five that wear a mask, only one will wear it correctly. We have no respect for social distancing.
“They have no respect for the other protocols of COVID-19. I think it is about time we take the matter seriously. I think the good news for me is the fact that Mr President has signed a regulation that sort of criminalised violation of any COVID- 19 protocol. It would be the responsibility of the various heads of parastatals to ensure that these protocols are complied with. But I think the most important thing is today the government has taken a very huge step in signing the quarantine regulation.
“Now there is also the big question about vaccines. I think there are many issues about vaccines. The first is the availability of vaccines. The second is the safety of these vaccines. The third is the availability of these vaccines not talking about the logistics of these vaccines. Already there is a big scramble the world over.
“I think as of today Africa has about 1.3 billion population. I doubt if we have secured half a billion vaccines so far. Why the various governments and fellow Nigerians focusing on how to source these vaccines, whether it is Pfizer, Modena, Oxford, a bigger problem which is the vaccine hesitancy which has arising against the background of conspiracy theories for these vaccines. Not only conspiracy theory about vaccines, but conspiracy theories even about the virus itself.
“Well, many people actually believed this is not real. Some people have introduced religion, some people don’t just believe in science, but the truth of the matter is that COVID 19 is real. People must have confidence in vaccines because, if they are not safe the federal government will not recommend them in the first instance.
“That is why it is already said the President, the Vice President and the Governors will be the first to take these vaccines, to convince everybody that these vaccines are safe. We know that ahead of the vaccines, we must also mount a very vigorous enlightenment campaign to neutralise the effect of all these conspiracies to even assuage the fears of some people who have had some not too pleasant experiences in the past from certain vaccines. But the situation here is completely different.
“We are dealing here with a virus that has affected lives and livelihood all over the world, and vaccines are one of the most effective ways of returning back to a normal life. We want to plead with our religious leaders, our political leaders, our elite to please join in the recovering effort to persuade and convince Nigerians and all their followers that the government will not introduce any Vaccine which is deemed unsafe.
“As of today the government is busy trying to ramp up the vaccine and the government is talking to COVAC and various organisations in the world so that in the next two years, I think, 70 percent of Nigerians would have been vaccinated. It would be such a tragedy if after all the effort and logistics, the vaccines are here and then some people are dissuading Nigerians not to take the vaccine either because of their past unpleasant experiences or because of some very unscientific conspiracies.
“Yes, I agree with you, we need to ramp up our advocacy effort and PTF is not leaving any stone unturned. Two days ago the FG met with traditional rulers, I also met with traditional rulers yesterday as a member of the PTF and as a member of other sub-committee and it was one of the issues that we appealed to our traditional rulers to please lead the campaign against this vaccine hesitancy.
“We know those who can convince their followers easily, especially religious leaders. We are also going to use our celebrities in the TV industry and sports to push this campaign. And as I said we will also lead by example. As soon as we get the very first dosage of the vaccines, the president, VP, the Governors, the medical personnel will be the first of the people in the frontline in the fight against CV-19.