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Covid-19 :UNICEF partners religious, traditional leaders to prevent vaccine hesitancy in Borno state Calls for sustained routine immunization

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This photograph shows a syringe poses on a vial of AstraZeneca anti-covid-19 vaccine in a pharmacy in Paris on March 12, 2021, as pharmacies have been authorised to give Covid-19 vaccinations – for the first time in the vaccination campaign in France. (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP)

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) is working with local authorities, religious, traditional and influential individuals in Borno state to prevent vaccine hesitancy and convince people in the communities to take the Covid-19 vaccination to reduce the number of people who will succumb to the pandemic.

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UNICEF Communication Officer in Borno state, Folashade Adebayo, disclosed this at the ongoing media dialogue on Routine Immunization, Post Polio Certification and Covid-19 vaccination organised by the organisation in collaboration with the Child Rights Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in Yola, Adamawa State.

Adebayo observed that UNICEF is working hard to dispel conspiracy theories around Covid-19 vaccines to ensure that what happened in Borno state during the early stage of polio immunization does not repeat itself in the state in the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination exercise.

“We all know the rumours and resistance that happened during the polio vaccination which caused a lot of deaths,” Adebayo said.

“We want to reduce the number of people who will succumb to Covid-19. There was hesitancy at the early stage of polio immunisation and this cause a lot of damage and we don’t want such an incident to repeat itself. We present scientific evidence to them ensuring that the right information is out there and that people take the vaccine and also continue to practice non-pharmaceutical interventions.”

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Adebayo noted that a total of 75,510 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine was deployed to Borno state adding that about 31,604 persons have been vaccinated.

According to her, the state has recorded 1,337 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 1200 persons discharged, 99 active cases and 38 deaths.

Also speaking, UNICEF Specialist, Communication for Development (C4D), Mrs Elizabeth Onitolo, noted that the success recorded in routine immunization in Nigeria is still fragile because immunization coverage is still low and many parents are still not compliant while many children have not been vaccinated.

Onitolo, who stressed the need to sustain routine immunization in the country to avoid a resurgence of the Wild Polio Virus, observed that every child must complete routine immunisation so that the virus will not have a window to re-enter communities.

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She noted that because of COVID-19, attention shifted from routine immunization, adding that children are vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases as soon as they miss their routine immunization.

She said: ” The fact that we have been certified WPV free does not mean that the risks are over. The success recorded is still fragile because immunization coverage is still low. Environmental Sanitation and personal hygiene in the communities are still very low, providing possible grounds for outbreaks. Polio virus transmits from person to person, or from wastewater to person. Children are especially vulnerable because their immune system is weak.

“Polio has no cure, only prevention through vaccination. We need to act now to protect our children from getting the polio virus, we need to maintain ‘herd immunity. This means every child must complete routine immunization so that the virus will not have a window to re-enter our communities. Remember If all children are fully vaccinated, the virus will have no window to enter and will die out”.

Onitolo, who stated that immunization is the best way to secure the future of children, stressed the need for communities to adopt key household practices such as hand and respiratory hygiene and sanitation and adhere to COVID-19 precautionary measures such as frequent hand washing, wearing face masks in public and avoiding large gatherings.

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