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Steep Misinformation May Affect COVID-19 Vaccination – YIAGA Warns

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….Calls for Equitable Access

By Matthew Ogune, Abuja

Yiaga Africa has raised concerns over misinformation on the COVID-19 vaccination saying “a steep misinformation curve is likely to affect community trust and vaccination confidence.

This was contained in a policy brief on COVID-19 vaccine management in Nigeria released by Yiaga Africa on Wednesday.

The Organisation decried that, despite the fact that the Nigeria Center for Disease Control had developed communication strategy to fight infodemic in a pandemic”, misinformation about the vaccine is spreading fast, with some political/opinion leaders spreading “messages on woes’’ negating the purpose of and need for the COVID-19 vaccination.

According to Yiaga Africa, this misinformation is also beginning to adopt a religious undertone, with some religious leaders projecting messages against the vaccine in a country where religion is a significant influencer.

According to Yiaga, the federal government, through its agencies, must embark on public enlightenment providing adequate information on the vaccine and the importance of curbing the spread of COVID-19, adding that the public enlightenment should also include readily available information on the process of vaccination, the phases of distribution, and the vaccination benefits in preventing COVID-19.

The group noted that the government will need different levels of interagency collaboration and stakeholder partnership to provide counter-narratives to the conspiracy theories on the vaccines which it said will include harping on the safety of the vaccines.

According to the policy brief, COVID-19 further revealed Nigeria’s dilapidating state with fragile health care systems and the poor planning impeding response to public health emergencies. “The poor planning on the part of the government is further causing a significant decline in people’s confidence in health systems in Nigeria”, it said.

Yiaga Africa however recommended that, if the government in Nigeria and other African governments will succeed in vaccinating their populations against COVID-19, they must build people’s confidence in the government.

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“This is particularly so in Africa with very fragile health systems and infrastructure. With many governments now unable to ensure patient safety, fear of contracting COVID-19 reduces the number of people accessing local facilities resulting in an unprecedented crisis of confidence in the health system”, it said.

It said, the commencement of COVID-19 vaccination requires a clear strategy for distribution to guide and ensure uniformity of practice for the nationwide distribution of the vaccines. The need for equitable access to the vaccine according to Yiaga Africa presupposes due process in ensuring responsiveness to the need, balance and conscientiousness in determining access to the vaccines.

According to Yiaga Africa, while it is becoming a practice in other countries, there has been a consensus on the need to begin the vaccination in Nigeria with those in the frontline in the battle against COVID-19, especially the health workers and essential workers, deciding who should come next has spurred considerable debate.

“As vaccines are rolled out across Nigeria, it is also vital to strengthen policy and legal frameworks for vaccine management.

“The limitations of the Quarantine Act 1926 Cap.Q2 LFN 2004 and the National Health Act (2014) provide an opportunity for the National Assembly to provide a robust framework for managing public health crises in Nigeria.

“Such a robust legal framework must incorporate democratic principles to protect rights and ensure due process within existing institutions.

“This is also a good time to revisit the process of passing the Control of Infectious Diseases bill in Law. It is also important to ensure that legislative reform concerning vaccine management is gender-sensitive and addresses social inclusion issues.”

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