A lot of “funny” and “ridiculous” comments have been circulating since the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine to the Nigerian populace. The is highly understandable and we don’t stand in the position to judge, change peoples’ decisions or force them to do what they do not want to do. However, as medical practitioners, we insist that people’s get their facts right. For instance, if an individual is aware of the risks of smoking and still decides to keep smoking, not a lot can be done for the person as regards that. personally, I won’t say a word. However, if I find that the person is deluding him or herself with lies about how smoking gives you strength, makes you sharp and so on, I feel the need to step in.
Currently, there is the freedom of choice in Nigeria and the entire world at large – If you don’t want to get vaccinated, don’t. I’m not eager to get vaccinated too. Maybe I would, maybe I won’t. It’s my personal choice. Same way I won’t force it on anyone but not everything that is been said in those circulating videos or broadcast messages are correct.
Let take a little time to explain some of the intricacies and to further drive home my point, I want us to think of the vaccine as the airbag that comes in cars and this analogy will be used to answer some questions and point out how ridiculous some of these videos and BCs are.
Q1. If I get vaccinated can I stop wearing a mask?
That is like asking if my car has an airbag, can I stop wearing my seat belt? Can you see the ridiculousness?
Q2. If I get vaccinated will restaurants reopen?
This is very subjective. In some places, they let businesses reopen, in others they don’t. It is based on data of rates of spread after vaccination and other factors. It is my belief that the vaccines will help reduce the spread and governments will be more confident about letting businesses reopen.
Q3. If I get vaccinated will I be resistant to COVID?
That is like asking if my car has an airbag, will I be resistant to car crashes? Do you see the ridiculousness?
Q4. But this “Doctor” said so and so in this video or that interview.
We know most of these are just cheap shots because a large number of them are not actual medical doctors. Furthermore, the casual talk about death quota is just playing on your fear and bias, which is totally unscientific.
Q5. If I get vaccinated at least I won’t be contagious to others?
That is like asking if my car has an airbag at least I would help other cars prevent accidents? Again, do you see how ridiculous it is.
Q6. How long will the vaccine last?
How long has the vaccines you have taken lasted? Have you ever had to get a booster shot for any of the vaccines you took when you were younger? Vaccines are different in this regard. So far, the only vaccine that I know of in this part of the world that needs booster shots is the tetanus vaccine. In America however, they take booster shots for the flu vaccine – almost every year I think. Also, remember that the common cold and COVID are very similar, so people expect that it may require booster shots but no one truly knows. That, we will have to find out.
Q7. If I get vaccinated can I stop social distancing?
That is like asking, if my car has airbags, can I stop driving with safety precautions? Again, it is just ridiculous.
Q8. If we all get vaccinated can we hug each other again?
If all our cars have airbags can we stop taking safety precautions?
Q9. So, what is the benefit of even getting vaccinated at all?
I will tell you. What is the benefit of having airbags in your car? So that if you ever get in a crash, you don’t suffer terrible injuries. You may have injuries, but they won’t be as bad as they will be without them. That is what vaccines do.
Vaccines work by teaching your body to fight an infection. You have taken vaccines against polio, tuberculousis, yellow fever etc. It is why you do not see people with these conditions too often. I have never seen a person with yellow fever before. Yet about two decades ago, it was nearly as common as malaria. That is what vaccines can do.
There is a vaccine for common cold, so it was not hard to develop one for COVID, remember that the common cold virus and COVID are very related. In fact they are both corona virus. Yes dear, the common cold virus is also a corona virus. That is why the covid virus was initially called the new corona virus. However, It has been hard to predict the severity of infections. Some have said it affects elderly people and people with chronic conditions more, but we have seen young people without any underlying condition die from it.
Just last week I had to console someone who lost two his mother and mentor to COVID. COVID is real and it is taking lives. Vaccines on the other hand are designed to be safe and effective. People that have taken the vaccines report a little discomfort that resolves within hours.
Q10. If I get vaccinated, I can protect 100% of people I come in contact with?
Apply the airbag analogy here – if my car has an airbag, can I protect all the people I collide with? Do you see the amount of ridicule this person is subjecting us to? Which man-made system is 100% guaranteed? Show me, I will wait.
Q11. If I experience adverse effects, will I or my family be compensated?
I won’t dismiss this as a non-issue, I think it is an issue. One that is currently being debated. The vaccine companies like Pfizer, want countries to waive all concerns of compensation for adverse events that may arise from the vaccine.
Making the COVID-19 vaccine is not hard. Making vaccines for malaria, Ebola, HIV, those ones are hard.
For a number of reasons;
1. Those organisms are tricky.
2. There are not a lot of already existing vaccines that are similar to those ones.
3. They are an African problem. People don’t generally care about African problems.
4. The economics. Africa is poor. So we can’t afford anything the try to sell to us.
However COVID is a global issue today. Europe and America are pumping billions of dollars into finding a vaccine. Companies are doing all that they can to grab as much of those billions as possible. For Nigeria, I was not even expecting that we will have a vaccine this early. But apparently the NPHCDA has procured some. The next concern will be how to preserve and store them so they’re still effective when they’re administered. In the end if we don’t do our part to deal with COVID19 other countries will take care of it and then it will be left as an African issues the way HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are today. Then we will have to present a COVID card at the airports if we want to travel the way we present yellow fever card and take malaria prophylaxis while the rest of the world moves on.
Therefore, conclusively, using the airbag analogy; It does not prevent you from getting in accidents, it does not eliminate accidents, it certainly does not prevent death, it does not guarantee you wont get in an accident, it does not stop you from crashing into other cars, it does not eliminate the need for safety precautions but certainly you want an airbag in your car don’t you? With these few points of mine, I hope I have been able to convince you and not confuse you about the reasons and importance for vaccination. Learning is an everyday process, we’re either learning or we’re dying.
Dr Chike Opara is a medical doctor and UI designer working at intersection of healthcare, technology and design to improve access to quality medical care