By Tajudeen Kareem
The quest for population immunity is the underlying reason for the vaccine mandate Nigeria rolled out on 13 October for federal civil servants to increase the number of persons immunised against Covid-19.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman, Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha announced the requirement for federal employees to vaccinate or ensure they bring negative vaccine tests from three-days-prior validity. It seemed like a tall order pointing in only one direction. The regulation would take effect from 1 December 2021, more than six weeks from now.
Mustapha’s words stated: “With effect from 1st December 2021, Federal Government employees shall be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result done within 72 hours, to gain access to their offices, in all locations within Nigeria and our Missions. An appropriate service wide advisory/circular will be issued to guide the process.
Officials explain that the vaccine mandate for civil servants is necessary owing to the nature of their job that requires constant interface with citizens from various walks of life. They are thus a priority for control efforts.
Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, the agency in charge of vaccination, stated at a press briefing that the measure is not punitive but seeks the protection of the larger populace. Nigeria is following global best practice, aspiring to acquire herd immunity when 70 per cent of the population is vaccinated.
Dr Shuaib gave a clarification: In making a pronouncement that by 1st December, all federal government employees would have to show proof of vaccination or negative PCR test. We are clearly aware that we have to put in place all of the machinery, all of the processes and allow federal government employees access to get these vaccinations in locations that are nearest to them.
“You should also be mindful of the fact that a lot of these federal government employees have already gotten the vaccine anyway, but of course this is a small fraction, a minority of these employees that are not taking the vaccine, continue to pose a risk to other colleagues. These are the people that we need to be sure are negative before they have access to the institution. So, we have to emphasize the fact that there is an option for people to take.
“It is not that people are being forced to take the vaccine. You have the option of not taking the vaccine but actually showing negative PCR test so that you cannot be among the people that are infecting others.”
Mustapha added an advisory and caution as citizens prepare for large religious observances by both Muslims and Christians.
“The PSC wishes to put Nigerians on notice that two major religious festivities (Salah and Christmas) are approaching, and we shall be experiencing increased passenger traffic in and out of the country. Similarly, events of large gatherings are likely to hold. While the PSC prepares to escalate surveillance and other control activities, we urge the States and all Nigerians to also increase their vigilance and take measure to moderate activities”, Mustapha cautioned.
Nigeria had by 13 October 2021 vaccinated four million citizens. Two million six hundred thousand (2,645,020) persons have received the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine and 1,407,736 eligible persons got the first dose of Moderna vaccine.
Shuaib stated: “To end this pandemic, we must achieve enough level of population immunity when the virus essentially becomes a nuisance and no longer a threat. The only way to achieve this is if eligible persons come out for vaccination and observe the non-pharmaceutical interventions. The COVID-19 vaccines remain the most effective tool against this virus.”
He noted that vaccine mandates have become a global practice. “With the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 globally, we are beginning to see countries instituting vaccine mandates. Some countries have begun asking workers to either present a proof of vaccination or provide weekly COVID-19 PCR negative results to be allowed into public offices”, he stated.
The NPHCDA boss points to science and empirical data in support of the measure. “A recent study by the United States Centre for Disease Control which examined 600,000 COVID-19 cases, revealed that people who were unvaccinated were about four and a half times more likely to contract COVID-19. It further showed that those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 were eleven times more likely to die of the disease and ten times more likely to be hospitalized with the disease. We should also be mindful of the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection, which is characterized by blood clotting disorders, lung, and kidney problems”.
Federal health officials tread carefully in managing Covid-19. They are careful to dispel any doubts about the efficacy and necessity for vaccination against the backdrop that nature has spared Nigeria from a feared tsunami.
Shuaib emphasised the necessity for the vaccination. He also asked officials at all levels of the chain and citizens to be careful with the vaccines available. For one, do not mix the vaccines for the first and second doses. If you take AstraZeneca for the first dose, officials must ensure that the second dose is also AstraZeneca.
“Let me emphasize that all COVID-19 vaccines are safe and capable of protecting people against the disease. We do not promote preference of one vaccine brand over the other, and we strongly discourage mixing of vaccine brand for first and second doses”, said the NPHCDA boss.
The Federal Government urges states to take full control of the vaccine doses they receive and ensure compliance with regulations. Foremost is the fact that vaccination is free to all citizens. No state should charge for vaccination. States also need to ensure they do prevent situations where medical personnel circumvent procedures to sell vaccines or vaccine certificates.
Shuaib issued the Riot Act. “Any State found to be condoning acts of corruption will no longer be allocated vaccines. We have received reports of people trying to procure cards from health workers. These reports are being investigated and anyone found wanting would be prosecuted. It is important to emphasize that it is in the interest of public safety and collective well-being of Nigerians that the Federal Government has made available these vaccines free for all eligible persons”.
The NPHCDA boss also informed Nigerians that corporate vaccination had be instituted to make it easier for workers who are too busy at their workplace to receive the vaccination at their office premises. He stated that the corporate vaccination for Ministries, Departments, Agencies, public and private corporate organizations will be provided free of charge. States and Local Governments are also reminded that no fees/levies should be demanded from the corporate bodies when teams are sent to provide these services.