Expediency Of Ensuring Everyone In Nigeria Gets A Covid Vaccine

By Isaac Asabor
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Despite the laudable news that Nigeria has received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the third country in Africa to get the shots through COVAX, not few Nigerians are indifferently disposed to the news, even in the face of the fact that the variant imported by Nigeria, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, has scientifically been proven to have an effectiveness rate of about 62% in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 disease beginning 2 weeks after the second dose. Against the foregoing backdrop, one would have thought that Nigerians have every reason to be happy as the arrival of the vaccines in the country is an assurance that they would not be locked down in their various homes any longer as long as the effectiveness of the vaccines persists.

At this juncture, it is germane to ask, “How did we arrive at this level of indifference? Putting political will aside for a moment, there is no denying the fact that the mismanaged distribution of palliatives by the Federal Government to cushion the effect of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on poor and vulnerable Nigerians in various parts of the country, last year, still remain fresh in the memories of virtually every Nigerian.

Added to the foregoing is that the payments of beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), which focused on the urban poor, who depend on the informal sector to earn their livelihood (daily wage earners), as well as people living with disabilities at the time the pandemic was at its destructive apogee appear to have failed to impress millions of Nigerians that are living way below poverty line in far-flung parts of the country. Therefore, it cannot be said in this context to be an exaggeration for anyone to say that the people have completely lost faith in their leaders.

Since the consignments of the vaccines arrived, and were received on March 2, 2021, just yesterday, this writer, by virtue of his profession, has been on an advantageous pedestal to casually observe that not few people have the belief that the country is bereft of good policies to make life better for the citizenry. What the people see as the missing link is the lack political will and unalloyed sincerity to give life to such policies. Those who hold the foregoing view argue that they have seen good policies dragged into the mud either because somebody somewhere did not do his or her work for selfish reasons or did it with selfish motives.

The foregoing view is not alien to many Nigerians as it has been resonating among them with regard to the implementation of the COVID-19 palliative measures last year when some politicians either stored away relief items that were mainly staple foods that cut across rice, garri and indomie or gave them away as memorabilia on their birthdays and in some cases were in partisan manner given to registered party members of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC). All the foregoing expressed inanities happened in some parts of Lagos State if you think it did not happen in your own part of the country.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is not surprising that not few Nigerians have remained indifferent to the arrival of the vaccines that is expected to completely shield everyone from the pandemic of the deadly coronavirus. Besides, commentators have discussed the difficulties of ensuring that a vaccine is distributed equitably, as opposed to simply being given to the most affluent, and have called attention to the problems of diverting the vaccines to relatives that own hospitals or pharmacies, and even finding their way to black markets and illegally sells them at gouged price. Without doubt, and considering how corrupt the leaders are, the foregoing fears over equitable and fair distribution of the vaccines are likely going to become realities.

There has also been some general, abstract discussion of the fact that the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, when it comes into existence as it has come in the case of Nigeria at the moment, has significant potential for both grand and petty corruption. Absent from the discussion, though, has been expectations for the government to make plans for incorporating anti-corruption measures in vaccine distribution, even as it should take into account the inherent logistical challenges. It is noteworthy at this juncture to say that the World Health Organization (WHO), to its credit, has released a seventeen-page plan for fair allocation of a COVID vaccine, which discusses detailed measures to ensure that vaccines are distributed fairly, justly and equitably.

However, the WHO plan devotes little more than a page to promises of “strong accountability mechanisms” in the governing bodies to “ensure protection against undue influence.” The WHO does note that the primary role of its own Independent Allocation Validation Group is to ensure that proposals from the vaccine Allocation Taskforce remain “transparent and free from conflicts of interest,” but while this sort of internal monitoring is laudable, the WHO plan conspicuously lacks any further guidance or recommendations on appropriate anticorruption measures once the vaccines are handed over to their allocated countries.

At this juncture, it is expedient to recall President Muhammadu Buhari’s quote that says “Only a people’s vaccine with equality and solidarity at its core can protect all of humanity and get on societies safely running against a bold international agreement cannot wait”. Politicians in leadership position should refrain from behaving in such a way that would make the people become distrustful of them.

To my view, the instructive comment of Mr. President that “Learning from the painful lessons from a history of unequal access in dealing with diseases such as HIV we must heed the warning that “those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it”, is unarguably guiding. The president has equally been credited with the saying that “Only a People’s Vaccine with equality and solidarity at its core can protect all of humanity and get our societies safely running again. A bold international agreement cannot wait.”

It is instructive to urge political office holders and public officials who, by virtue of their offices, would be assigned to distribute the just received vaccines to ensure that the vaccines get to everyone as long as such person lives in Nigeria; be he a Nigerian or a foreigner. The reason for the foregoing cannot be farfetched as the need to be fair, equitable and just in this case cannot be farfetched as “Infection of COVID-19 on one person is an infection to everyone”.

Permit me to reiterate the fact that the vaccines should be fairly and justly distributed as not doing so will further deepen the level of distrust of the government by the people. Again, we must not forget the fact that distrust does not happen overnight. It develops progressively through stages, and if we can recognize these stages when we are in them, we have a chance of addressing the situation before distrust takes root. Unfortunately, leaders do not always have the chance to address the situation as most of them thoughtlessly see their position to be intransient.

What are the stages of the things leaders do not see in the social contract they have with people? The first stage is distrust. It begins with doubt. It is the stage where people begin to experience slight uncertainty about leader’s trustworthiness like Nigerians have been witnessing in the ongoing government being led by President Buhari. Such level of distrust makes the people to pause a bit as being witnessed in this case of expected distribution of COVID vaccine.

In the same vein, doubt, if unresolved, grows into suspicion over time. It is explanatory at this juncture to say that suspicion is belief without proof. At this point, the people would start seeing a pattern of behavior that may indicate lack of trust.

Still in the same nexus, anxiety would at the third stage lead to a feeling of apprehension or uneasiness. Without mincing words this is the stage Nigerians are.

Be that as it may, the government need to be fair, equitable and just in the distribution of the COVID Vaccines as there is an unprecedented and declining levels of trust in the country; whether it is the confidence in the federal government and elected officials or the trust of each other.

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