With the release of vaccines to slow the spread of COVID-19 globally, the Nigerian government has rolled out its pilot effort to acquire 100,000 doses through the global vaccine-sharing scheme known as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility. This will then be followed by a massive rollout across the country to cover one-fifth of the nation’s 200 million population. According to Faisal Shuaib, head of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, the country hopes to get 42 million vaccines through the COVAX Facility.
Federal authorities are also making efforts to obtain easy to store vaccines from manufacturers in Britain, Russia, and China to accelerate the rollout and meet its target of vaccinating every Nigerian by the end of the year.
Achieving this feat, however, will not be an easy task as, according to our findings, more than half of Nigerians are either against getting the vaccine or are simply not sure if they would get it.
Nigeria is currently experiencing the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic with about 110,000 cases recorded and over 1,444 deaths. Proving to be deadlier than the first wave, the nation recorded six consecutive weeks of increase from November 2020. According to data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the country recorded 50 and 48 deaths in the first and second week of 2021 respectively. Meanwhile, in the third week of the year, the country recorded 70 deaths, the weekly highest in 2021.
So we asked a very simple question.
Would our respondents take the COVID-19 vaccine when it is made available?
33.6 percent said ‘No’, 23 percent said ‘Maybe’ while 42.7 percent answered in the affirmative.
Apart from roughly 30 percent who do not believe that COVID-19 exists, many Nigerians have also fallen victim to misinformation and false news, superstition and ignorance about the science behind the infection.
Social media platforms – WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – are awash with misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine ostensibly to spread fear, promote prejudice, incite panic buying, proffer fake cures, and undermine medical advice.
Just as it is in other countries, Nigeria has developed and announced a detailed vaccine deployment plan to flatten the curve and ultimately see off the pandemic in the shortest time possible. Officials say President Muhammadu Buhari and the Vice President would be the first recipients of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the first 100,000 doses of which are expected to be available this month. It would subsequently be distributed to key political leaders and health workers in order to raise awareness and reduce stigma against the vaccine on the part of the citizens.
Our study however shows that just 42 percent of Nigerians are willing to take the treatment, with government’s integrity and vaccine efficacy being major problems for those who claim otherwise.
Those who would take the vaccine explain that they will do so for the following reasons:
For panelists who are against (or unsure of) taking the vaccine, comments range from:
Aptly capturing the split, a panelist in Ondo explains why she is not open to receiving the vaccine: “I had fever and cough for a week, and I could not taste anything. But I’m okay now, and I’ve heard how so many people have died from the virus. I’m not saying it does not exist, but it surely can’t be as serious as they make it out to be. So I cannot receive injection for something that has left me. Those who want it should go ahead”.
“Many people did not exactly need the government to tell them what to do about the virus from the start, did they?”
“Many people did not exactly need the government to tell them what to do about the virus from the start, did they?” a panelist from Kaduna asks rhetorically. “It’s not unusual to see many offices and homes abiding by strict COVID-19 safety measures like frequent handwashing, social distancing, and wearing of masks. We have followed the same standard many Muslim nations have set – which many faithfuls have recognized. This has been easy to galvanise using the radio as a means of communication, but telling people to go out and take a vaccine? That is a different thing entirely.”
“Access to information, especially useful information, is still a problem,” said a media expert who shared his insight for this report. “Just a month ago, Dino Melaye, a former Nigerian senator, urged Nigerians not to be vaccinated because he doubts its efficacy. Imagine how powerful that message will be among his supporters, constituents, and those who do not believe the virus exists in the first place? I think the Nigerian government is taking a lot of things about peoples’ acceptance for granted”.
Vaccines would normally take several months and, sometimes, even years to be approved by regulatory authorities. Due to the urgent need for COVID-19 vaccines, normal regulatory processes, mainly overseen by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) are being adapted to move more quickly. Nigeria has tailored its review processes in order to expedite COVID-19 vaccine approvals, while still ensuring that the highest safety standards are met.
Public information-sharing has fallen into a two-dimensional phenomenon, where people actively participate in pseudo-journalistic disinformation or actually label something as ‘fake news
“Unfortunately, Nigeria is not special in this case,” says another expert from the community development sector who has worked with a number of food banks in Lagos and Oyo. “Public information-sharing has fallen into a two-dimensional phenomenon, where people actively participate in pseudo-journalistic disinformation or actually label something as ‘fake news’. So people do not even know what to believe anymore. It is simply about existing safely within our echo chambers at this point”.
Perhaps making matters worse is NAFDAC which recently warned citizens of the activities of criminals circulating “fake COVID-19 vaccines”. One report said a black market for fake vaccines has begun to emerge online as criminals look to rip off people seeking alternative means of securing a dose.
Understanding that the efforts to counter the pandemic requires a wholesome approach that involves everyone, how will Nigeria defeat the virus fully while ensuring that those that need the vaccine receive it? With 42 percent of respondents in our study emphasizing that their motivation to receive the vaccines depends largely on the need to be healthy and also ensure that they do not infect their loved ones, would that be an effective approach in galvanizing Nigerian citizens?
“Understanding that younger Nigerian consumers are often at greater risk of exposure to fake news than older generations may just be a good the place to start,” said another expert. “Young people access their news through social media, news websites, and conversations with friends. Therefore if we want to get people interested in taking the vaccines, we need to do a job of countering the false message that the pandemic does not exist or that Bill Gates invested in vaccines to reduce the African population”.
“That is how Nigeria will decisively beat the pandemic”.
Insights on What The Streets Are Saying are drawn from data collected through in-depth interviews and surveys with our 500-member consumer panel spread across the country, including 100 culture insiders, who are all leading thinkers and doers across media and marketing.