Many people do not appreciate that they are alive today because vaccines protected them against “childhood killer diseases” as we call them in our efforts to decrease childhood mortality. This amnesia is perhaps unsurprisingly deep among some people in the developed world where routine vaccination has caused child survival to be taken for granted. Adults who become devoted antivaxxers may not realise that they owe their very existence to a process they are vehemently now fighting.
Strong objection to vaccination originates from the aspects of life where human intelligence and education do not perform very well: politics, superstition and religion. Just think of it. In these three arenas, it is easy to find people with the highest intelligence and education performing at the par with those who do not have such attributes.
To control the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in the world should be vaccinated on the same day. This is not possible, so countries try to do it as much as the availability of vaccines and the people trained to inject allow. Delay has three dangers. It allows the virus to continue replicating, and the more it does, new variants resistant to available vaccines are more likely to arise. Then delay puts more people in danger of disease and death. Yet, it seems politics does make some people who ought to know better take the risks.
The case of AstraZeneca vaccine comes to mind. Vaccination was needed in Europe at a time new, more dangerous variants of virus (SARS-CoV-2) were popping up and a third wave was about to engulf the region. Germany’s Minister of Health makes a few telephone calls to his colleagues and suddenly, over 10 countries suspend the rollout on unproven allegations that the vaccine was causing the dangerous complication of blood clots. Many people are, for one reason or another, reluctant to take vaccines, and to further frighten them with such statements would make it more difficult to get their cooperation. Why did he do it? Anything to do with Brexit? The action would cause suffering and death, not in Britain, but in his own country!
Rich countries like the USA and Canada are reported to be hoarding the vaccines. Italy even blocked its export to Australia in effort to make up for its own needs even though Australia paid for its order upfront. Poor and middle-income countries got it early because the organisation COVAX made it possible, but they will have to further purchase large amounts through their own efforts to make up their needs. It includes Nigeria.
In the USA, President Trump’s attitude to COVID-19 was ambiguous. Records show he knew it was a dangerous disease, but he claimed it was no more than a “sniffle” so as not to alarm the public. Trump exhibited gross ignorance of elementary biology when he suggested that infected people could be given injections of antiseptic to kill the virus in their bodies! When he caught it, he received a transfusion of monoclonal antibodies, an experimental treatment that had not yet received emergency use authorisation. He is also reported to have been vaccinated without disclosing it to the public.
Despite hundreds of thousands of Americans dying of COVID-19 around them, the followers of the former US President still deny the pandemic and refuse the vaccination! Their faith in their leader is based partly on a phenomenon called QAnon, a pseudo-religious conspiracy theory that elevates Trump to a divine messenger sent to sanitise the morals of the country. The combination of religion and politics is a dangerous recipe. It has infested the Republican Party where elected politicians fear that publicly contradicting Trump would endanger their political future if not their very lives.
Development and manufacture of the vaccines cost billions of dollars, and governments often pay upfront for the large doses needed to cover their populations. Developing countries took no part in the cost of development. Because we do not have well supervised ethical regulations, African countries had been used in the past to unethically and illegally test drugs that caused much damage to our people, so we became sensitive to being used as guinea pigs.
It was unfortunate that some French scientists carelessly talked about tests in Africa, so many people became militant against participation in the proper clinical trials of the new vaccines. The least informed, often the most vociferous on social network threatened that African countries should not participate in any trials. Fortunately, Nigeria’s enlightened Minister of Health said we would participate if need be. Since we did not financially contribute to the research and development, such participation was the least we could do. Moreover, many developing countries do not often have the cash or the will to purchase the quantity needed to prevent their countries from becoming reservoirs endangering the rest of the world.
Some African countries have reported discovery of wonderful cures, but, rather than publish their findings in professional journals and get them subjected to peer reviews, they go straight to the press and to governments, expecting their nostrums to be accepted for political and patriotic reasons! An example was the Madagascar solution delivered to the President of Nigeria.
It is possible to follow the scientific development of vaccines in international journals in all countries; they are not made in secret. Whether developed from mRNA, protein moiety or the use of a viral vector, the method is always revealed. I have no access to Russian or Chinese journals, but I know the type of vaccines they have prepared. The usual three stages of testing are not kept secret either. But in Nigeria, discoveries suddenly appear from nowhere as it were, when they are announced in the press and presented to the government.
Fortunately for developing countries, no matter how quickly any rich country can vaccinate its population to herd immunity, it would not be safe until all countries on the globe are similarly protected. The poor, the lazy, the corrupt and the undisciplined countries have to be supported, willy nilly, to similarly vaccinate their populations! If that annoys you, do not think of their corrupt governments; concentrate on their suffering populations.
Finally, there are the conspiracy theories that the vaccines contain computer chips to enable some nebulous Anti-Christ, or The Beast monitor the peoples of the world. Magic numbers and Bible support are even provided by protagonists. Though the theory does not mention the purpose for such surveillance, it certainly strikes fear. Innocent philanthropists like Bill Gates working hard to ensure that the vaccines reach the poor of the world are paradoxically accused.
Another allegation is that the vaccines contain chemicals to sterilise black women! Even after the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, citizens of developing countries continue to be the willing and eager source of cheap professional and manual labour for the developed world, why would they want to destroy such wonderful labour farms? In any case, most of our child survival programmes are run by NGOs from the developed world!
Visit the embassy of any developed country and you would find our people falling over themselves seeking for jobs abroad. Recently, there was news that the UK would no longer recruit doctors from developing countries because they are more needed in their home states. How kind, but they will go elsewhere if our countries do not change.
Back to vaccination. Unfortunately, many videos, well produced by apparently highly qualified professional antivaxxers from the developed world are being widely shared on the social internet network. Using scientific jargon, they look very credible but contain false deductions easily detectable to the initiated.
It shall be a hard grind for those who refuse vaccination. International travel is already conditional on COVID-19 vaccination passports, and I guess that eventually they would also be required for civic privileges and responsibilities in all countries. Refusal to vaccinate is trampling on the rights of society to rid itself of a dangerous disease, and offenders will face the consequences of their antisocial behaviour.
Gyoh, a professor of Medicine, writes from Makurdi