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COVID-19 vaccination: Mixed reactions as exercise trickles down to grassroots

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Although Nigeria made serious efforts to procure doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for the inoculation of citizens against the dreaded disease, their indications that unless the country embarks on serious sensitisation campaigns, a good percentage of the population would not be vaccinated. This is because many Nigerians appear not to be well informed about the exercise and have decided not to partake in it.

Findings by The Guardian across the states showed that some Nigerians still strongly hold that COVID-19 is a scam; hence there is no need for any vaccination against the virus. Many others rejected the vaccine out of fear. To this category of people, taking the vaccine amounts to a huge risk especially as many European countries including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway, and Denmark, among others, had suspended its use pending a review of its safety by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Although the EMA last Thursday declared that the vaccine was “safe and effective” and its benefits outweighed its risks, it is not clear yet whether people in this category would change their minds.

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Nevertheless, there are others who expressed confidence in the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), both of which certified the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. This group of Nigerians told The Guardian they were eager to take the vaccine more so when many traditional, political, and religious leaders in the country have received their jabs.

In Lagos State, which remains the epicentre of the disease in the country, the government last Tuesday released the list of 88 accredited health facilities that were carefully selected to administer the vaccination across its 20 local councils. The Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, who released the list, in a statement, disclosed that the inoculation could only be obtained at any of the 88 accredited facilities, noting that, “vaccination outside of these locations in Lagos State is highly prohibited and will attract heavy sanctions through our regulatory agencies.”

He also explained that vaccination would be conducted in four phases. Phase one covers healthcare workers, COVID-19 response team, ports of entry staff (air, land, and seaports), laboratory network, judiciary, military, police, other security agencies, petrol station workers, teachers, press, and other frontline workers.

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Phase two would focus on people aged 50 years and above as well as those living with co-morbidities who are between 18-49 years of age.

Phase three would be dedicated to people in the local councils with the highest burden of the disease and those who missed phases one and two, while phase four would focus on other eligible populations.

A visit to a few of the centres showed that the decentralisation of the exercise was yet to yield the expected result, as the turnout was low. At Gbagada General Hospital, a health worker who didn’t want to be named said they had been trying to encourage people to come out and get vaccinated but the response was low despite their efforts.

“We told them it is free of charge and nothing was going to happen to them but I guess there is still so much misinformation circulating around because some people tell us that they were told they would fall sick and/or die if they took it. I tell them that I took it and I am still very much alive and well but I guess they don’t believe me.”

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She urged residents to take advantage, saying they started three days ago and would be there till next week. She also said the vaccine has no side effects to the best of her knowledge.

“Don’t allow anyone to scare you; I am aware that some people are hanging around, telling people not to come and get it but please don’t listen to them,” she added.

However, some residents who received their jabs at the centre complained that the process was a bit cumbersome even as some health workers refused to take shots of the vaccine. “Everything in this country is politics, even to collect vaccination cards is wahala. We got our vaccines an hour ago but we have not collected cards because people are very impatient and won’t wait their turn. At my centre, they have been begging health workers to come out and take the vaccine for two days now; they had to return some yesterday and the day before. Those same workers are now causing problems for the people who are making sure the vaccine doesn’t waste today,” recounted one Adeola, who was at the centre when The Guardian visited last Thursday morning.

According to her, she got to the hospital around past 7.00 am in order to be attended to on time.

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“I came here with my sister and a friend very early and we were given numbers; I was number 15. They explained that they were going to vaccinate the health workers first before attending to other people and I said that was fine by me. However, to our surprise, the health workers were refusing to be vaccinated, saying they should attend to other people first. They just left us sitting there for hours before they eventually decided to start attending to us. I finally got my shot around midday,” she said.

She wondered how the health workers were going to convince other residents to take the vaccine when they themselves were refusing to take it.

A cursory look at the premises showed it was not busy; suggesting that many people either did not know the vaccination was ongoing or simply chose not to come and be vaccinated. However, Adeola said it could be that most people were still waiting to be alerted via email as they had registered online to be inoculated.

“When the portal was opened for registration to be inoculated, I registered everyone in my family but I got a mail a few days later saying it was canceled. In fact, the only reason I knew I could walk into a centre and get vaccinated was that I saw people posting online that they had just got vaccinated and I decided to take a chance,” she added.

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The story was not different at Ilasamaja Primary Health Centre, where The Guardian also observed a poor turnout. A resident in the area who identified himself as Sola Shonibare said he would not take a shot of the vaccine and would neither allow any of his family members to take it because he still didn’t believe the virus was real.

“You have been brainwashed and they have sent you here to come and brainwash me. Did you get COVID-19? Did I get it? Why are they now telling me to go and collect one injection from somewhere, an injection that I don’t know what is inside or where they got it from,” he said, then hissed and walked away.

One of the nurses at the centre said they had been educating residents on the benefits of getting the vaccine. “You know how our people can be; you have to introduce things slowly to them, especially things they are not familiar with. You can’t force them to get it. We don’t want these vaccines to waste so we are doing our best to get more people to turn up,” she said.

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A resident in Kosofe local council, who identified himself as Kelechi, said he got his shot at Ketu PrimaryHealth Care Centre. Narrating his experience, he said the exercise was very easy and encouraged people to get their shots.

“Someone told me about it and I just walked there very early today, registered, and got my number. I initially thought the place would be very busy and uncoordinated. But there were very few people there and it was quite seamless to my surprise. When it was my turn, I was given and that was it; I didn’t feel any pain or side effects. Some people were saying we should use paracetamol but I don’t see the need for it when I am not feeling any pain. If anything changes, I would let you know but for now, I am fine,” he said.

For Gideon Ayogu, a civil servant, the concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine have made him decide not to take it.

He said: “More European countries have suspended its use. It has been reported that the vaccines have caused blood clots in some recipients, a major worry. However, the Nigerian government has insisted on the safety of the batch it received without any form of empirical basis. Further, it has stated that it would be continuing the use of the vaccine and I think that is a misguided move. I would not be taking the vaccine because I’m more worried about the potential of having blood clots which could be a source of major ailments or even death.”

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A public relations consultant, Toluwalase Bakare, said: “I am not sure I will ever be taking the vaccine, not anytime soon. Let the guinea pigs go ahead first. It’s like eating undone food. There are still new findings emerging from the administration of the vaccines and this is a major source of worry for me.”

On her part, a businesswoman, Anthonia Duru, said she had booked an appointment to receive the vaccine but she was scared. “I booked an appointment for it online but I was scared because of the negative reports I keep receiving. However, I will go next week. I have made up my mind to take the jab even though my husband said I shouldn’t; he is scared but I don’t blame him. A family friend even said he wouldn’t come near me for at least two months if I go for it. Coronavirus is still very real. So, I will definitely persuade my husband to allow me go.”

Reports from Kebbi, Plateau, Imo, Osun, Nasarawa, Gombe, Abia, Adamawa and Delta states showed the situation in Lagos was being replicated there. In Kogi State, which is yet to take delivery of its first batch of the vaccine, an atmosphere of apprehension pervaded the air. The Guardian presents details of how the vaccination exercise is progressing in the aforementioned states in the following reports.

Traditional, Religious Rulers
Mobilise Kebbi Residents

In Kebbi State, to facilitate the inoculation of residents, the COVID-19 Task Force Committee has engaged traditional rulers, religious leaders, the media and other stakeholders to educate the people on the importance of being vaccinated.

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Deputy Governor of the state and Coordinator of the Committee, Col. Ismail Yombe Dabai (rtd), who disclosed this while speaking with The Guardian, explained that the involvement of traditional rulers, religious leaders, and other stakeholders was meant to support the efforts of the committee towards ensuring that residents in the state get vaccinated.

He stated that the state took delivery of the vaccine last week, adding that the committee was working hard to come up with a procedure that would ensure that all residents would be inoculated.

“We are working hard to ensure that the people are vaccinated. We have to start it from the health workers, followed by the traditional rulers and religious leaders before we vaccinate others,” he added.

The Deputy Governor promised that the vaccine would reach the 21 local councils of the state.

He urged the people not to panic, saying the vaccine was meant to prevent them from contracting the disease.

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Mixed Reactions Trail
Exercise In Plateau

ON Monday, March 15, 2020, the Plateau State government officially flagged off the COVID-19 vaccination programme having received 105,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine.

Governor Simon Lalong was the first to take the anti-COVID-19, which was given to him by his personal physician, after which his wife, Regina, was also vaccinated.

Speaking after taking his jab, Lalong encouraged residents to embrace the exercise, saying there was nothing to fear about the vaccine.

“I am the first to take the vaccine in Plateau State not only because I am the governor but also because of the need to show example and reassure the citizens that there is nothing to fear about the vaccine,” he said.

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He noted that although no one was under compulsion to take the vaccine, it was criminal for those not willing to take it to discourage others desiring it.

“As a government, we have to work hard on the issue of sensitisation and awareness among our people to ensure that the rumours and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories do not gain ground. COVID-19 remains a real threat to many people not only in our state but also around the country and the world at large. This is time for proactive measures rather than complacency and fear,” he added.

The governor said the state received 105,600 doses of the vaccine, adding that preparations had begun for the distribution and administration of the vaccines across the 17 local councils.

Many residents in the state, who spoke with The Guardian, said they were ready to take the vaccine, having seen that the President, Vice President, and their state governor have received it publicly. However, some residents said they would not take the vaccine because of its reported side effects.

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Ojo Emmanuel, a radio mechanic in Jos, said: “Government will not give us anything that will be harmful to us. Since these people have received theirs and nothing adverse has happened to them, I am ready to receive it anytime they come to me.”

But a security man at a private school in Jos, Moses Audu, said: “In as much as I am not dissuading people from taking the dose, I will not rush to take it. I will study people who have taken it for a long time and if there is no adverse effect on them, I will take it. You know, I am above 50 years. I will watch carefully and put my ears to the ground.”

Hannatu Pedro, a trader, also said she had fears about the vaccine and had decided not to take it.

“Whether those people whom I see taking it to have adverse reaction or no reaction at all, I am not going to take it. As I speak now, my husband has made up his to take the vaccine no matter the side effect. According to my husband, the government cannot wish its subject bad. He argued that we are paying tax to government every month, hence they will not want to depopulate or reduce the number of people who are paying tax because it would be hazardous to them. But I have decided not to take the vaccine,” Pedro added.

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On the state’s ability to store the vaccine, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Nimkon Lar, said the state had long addressed the challenge of storage.

Lar said: “The state is one of the first in the country to show its readiness for the vaccine because of the availability of the storage facilities in the many health centres.

“Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) is there; Plateau Specialist Hospital is there and many other health centres. So, there is no fear at all.”

Imo: Uzodimma Allays
Residents’ Fears

IMO State is one of the states that have an uphill task in sensitising the residents to avail themselves the opportunity of receiving the vaccination against Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 

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This is because of the perception of many residents that the virus is either not real or is absent in the state. This is why non-pharmaceutical measures of preventing the disease such as wearing a facemask, maintaining social distance, applying hand sanitizers, and washing of hands frequently have been ignored by the majority of the residents. To complicate matters, some residents who accept that the virus exists have become skeptical about being inoculated against it because of the rumoured side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was procured by the country.

However, the governor of the state, Hope Uzodimma, along side his wife, Chioma, and other top government functionaries last week received their first doses of the vaccine.

At the ceremony held at the premises of the Imo State Primary Health Development Agency (ISPHCDA) at New Owerri, Uzodimma said: “If there is anyone who doesn’t want to die it is me. I want to give confidence to my people. I want them to see that government means well. I and my wife, Deputy Governor, and his wife will take the vaccine right here today.”

The Executive Secretary of ISPHCDA, Rev. Sr. Maria-Joaness Uzoma, commended the governor for providing the agency the necessary tools for the exercise.

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Speaking with The Guardian, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, gave the assurance that the state was well prepared to preserve the vaccine and retain its efficacy. He disclosed that solar power storage facilities had been put in place at the 305 political wards in the state, maintaining that the state government was prepared for the exercise.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Health in conjunction with the officials of the ISPHCDA has begun inoculating registered people at the local council level. Officials of the agency have also commenced sensitisation of residents via radio and television, with the state Coordinator of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Sebastine Okwu, complementing their efforts.

A member of staff of one of the higher institutions in the state, who identified herself as Chika, told The Guardian she would not present herself for inoculation, adding that she would not even wear a facemask.

She said: “I am not wearing the facemask because it is discomforting. I am also not going to receive the vaccine.”

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Another resident, Joe Ubi, said he was not finding it easy to register for the inoculation. According to him, he was unable to access the online registration portal because of network challenges in Owerri West local council.

“They said we should do it online but the network is a problem in our area, Okwukwu, Owerri West local council. I will be set when it becomes easily accessible,” he said.

Residents Divided As Kogi Awaits Delivery Of COVID-19 Vaccine
KOGI State is yet to take delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had declared recently that lack of storage facility was the reason the state had not taken its own share of the vaccine.

Corroborating this position, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Saka Haruna, in a telephone interview, said the state’s cold room was destroyed during the unfortunate #EndSARS protest in the state last year.

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He, however, disclosed that the state government was working towards fixing the facility, saying the state would take delivery of the vaccine and administer it to those that would want to be vaccinated after fixing the facility.

Recall that the state government had come under serious attack recently because of its position on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the state government had consistently said that issues around the pandemic were unnecessarily overhyped, the NCDC felt the government was endangering the lives of the people.

Even though the vaccine was not yet available in the state, residents were divided on their willingness to receive it.

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Sule Idris told The Guardian that he was not willing to take the vaccine. Asked why, he said: “With the controversy over the issue in the state, how are you sure that they will bring the right vaccine or administer it properly?”

However, several others expressed their willingness to take the vaccine. They noted that since the vaccine would protect them from contracting the virus, it was better to take it.

I Need Palliative Not Vaccine,
Says Osun Resident

THE Osun State government has distributed the 64,240,000 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine it received from the Federal Government to all the local councils in the state.

The state Immunisation Officer, who is in charge of the vaccine, Mrs. Adebola Adeosun, said the vaccine was handed over to the local council immunisation officers.

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She said the distribution was part of the state government’s efforts to put an end to the further spread of coronavirus in the state, especially at the grassroots. 

Adeosun said the state kept its consignment of the vaccine at its cold store under the required temperature that would make it effective.

While advising the people of the state not to loose their guard against COVID-19, Adeosun admonished them to discountenance the negative information making the rounds about the vaccine, alerting that any side effect could be felt after its administration was temporary.

Meanwhile, residents in the state expressed mixed feelings as regards taking the vaccine.

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A resident in Osun, Yinka Kolawole, who has received the vaccine, explained that he only experienced temporary body weakness on that day but became very fine the next day. He encouraged members of the public to take the vaccine, adding that it was safe.

“I had the privilege of receiving the first jab of the vaccine recently. I took it because I believe it would prevent me from being infected with COVID-19 as the government has assured us. The day I took it, I only felt slight weakness but the next day, I became normal. I want to encourage other Nigerians to receive it. You will not even know that something was injected into your body,” he said.

Kolawole’s advise is not for people like Shina Dada, a resident who has vowed not to receive the vaccine. He anchored his decision on the recent suspension of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by some countries. Moreover, he said he has been strong and healthy since the outbreak of the virus, noting that there was no need for him to take the vaccine, which he noted, has become controversial.

Dada wondered why the nation’s leaders were paying so much attention to the vaccine, adding that if the government was committed to the distribution of COVID-19 palliatives the same way they have been asking people to take the vaccine, Nigerians would have believed them.

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“My family and I won’t receive the vaccine. Some serious countries of the world have rejected it because of reports of side effects and Nigeria is encouraging her citizens to go for the same vaccine? I don’t need the vaccine. What I need is palliative because I am still struggling to survive the economic hardship that the recent lockdown caused,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, another resident in the state, Fisayo Akinduro, said he would not receive the vaccine.

“I won’t receive it. Even if I would change my mind, I would have to be sure that those who received it did not manifest any harmful effect,” Akinduro noted.

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Over 20,000 Persons Inoculated In
Nasarawa

THE Director of Public Health, Nasarawa State Ministry of Health, Dr. Hassan Ibrahim, has said that despite the skepticism about vaccination against COVID-19 disease, over 20,000 persons in the state have been inoculated.

Ibrahim, who spoke with The Guardian in Lafia, stated that out of the 61,000 doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine received by the state, 20,000 persons, starting with the health workers and other front liners, have received the vaccine.

On the side effects of the vaccine, he explained that the ministry received feedback from persons who took it that they weren’t severe.

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“Some of the people who took the vaccine reported back that they had side effects like headache, stomach upset, pains at the spot where the vaccine was given to them and we treated them and they are all well right now.

“More people are now coming for the vaccine because they now discover that nothing has happened to those who took it. Initially, there was this ‘wait and see attitude by some people. But now more people are coming for the vaccine and in about a week, we would have exhausted the first doses of the vaccine,” Ibrahim explained.

Gombe, Adamawa Residents Disagree On Efficacy Of Vaccine
Mixed reactions greeted the COVID-19 vaccination in Gombe State with residents captured in the first of the four phases expressing divergent views. This is in spite of several campaigns mounted by the state government.

The Guardian gathered that even at the Government House banquet hall where the exercise was flagged-off by Governor Inuwa Yahaya, who took the first jab alongside his cabinet and religious leaders, many people including journalists refused to take the vaccine. They expressed doubts about its safety citing media reports from European countries questioning the efficacy of the vaccine.

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A resident in Gombe, Malam Nurudeen Mohammed, told The Guardian that while he joins millions of people all over the world to bemoan the havoc the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked on livelihoods and the global economy, “the rate at which the vaccine was discovered is suspicious and I am not ready to be used as a specimen.”

A civil servant, who preferred anonymity, wondered why other countries stopped the administration of the vaccine on their citizens because of its adverse side effects, but “we have embraced it in Nigeria.”

“I will rather monitor those that have taken it for some time before I dare come for it,” he added.

Some who took the vaccine said they did because the governor, his deputy, and entire cabinet took it.

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A journalist, Chima Azubuike, said he took the vaccine because an epidemiologist, Prof. Idris Mohammed, who delivered a speech on the safety of the vaccine, convinced him.

“I just didn’t want to only continue writing about it; I wanted to feel it also,” he stated.

He, however, explained he felt the side effect for almost two days.

“After taking it, I was fine till about the time I wanted to go to bed. I began to feel intense headache and weakness till morning. I repeatedly had a bath to get some relief to no avail. I noticed slight pain around my left arm hours after. The headache has subsided but I still feel it very slightly,” he narrated.

In Adamawa, the state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Dami Mamza Gambo said: “The only surest and safest way out of COVID-19 pandemic is a vaccine.”

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He stated this when he and his Muslim counterpart led their executives to Yola Specialist Hospital to receive their first shot of the vaccine last Thursday.

On how the vaccines are being stored, findings showed the two states were making use of their primary healthcare facilities, which are in good conditions.

Abia Records Poor Turnout Among Frontline Workers
IN Abia State, the vaccination has been going on since the first phase was rolled out last Monday. However, the turnout for the exercise has not been impressive.

According to the state epidemiologist, Dr. Peace Nwogwugwu, the targeted population comprises health workers and other frontline workers like Task Force members, military and paramilitary personnel, police, petrol pump attendants and taxi drivers, among others.

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“We have fixed posts at all the Ward Health Centres and created temporarily fixed and mobile posts across the state. There is ongoing public awareness through jingles on electronic media platforms. So far, there are no adverse reports or events yet. We also have an appropriate Cold Chain System to preserve the vaccines,” she said.

The state Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, was the first to be vaccinated in the state followed by his family members and top government officials.

Many residents interviewed were undecided on when to receive their jabs.

A retired teacher, who pleaded anonymity, said he and his family members would not be in hurry to take the vaccine because of its reported side effects.

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Two media workers, a male and a female that were among the first to be vaccinated in Umuahia spoke narrated their experiences. While the female said she only felt a bit tired after taking the vaccine, the male said he was uncomfortable for three days.

Delta Vaccination Is Spring Up At Various Councils, Says Mordi
From Monday Osayande, Asaba

DELTA State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Onoye Mordi, has said that the vaccination of residents against the dreaded Coronavirus was springing up at the various local councils of the state.

Mordi, who noted that the state experienced a little hiccup in rolling out the exercise, stressed that “we are rolling up progressively.”

The commissioner said the state has a perfect facility to store the vaccines. “We don’t have a problem with storage or movement of the vaccines because we have a system of storage before now, and that system is very effective and helpful,” Mordi said.

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Austin Azu, a journalist, who said he had since taken the vaccine, encouraged others to do so.

He said: “When it got to Delta State, I had the opportunity of taking the vaccines same day Governor Ifeanyi Okowa; his wife, Edith, and others were inoculated. By and large, taking the vaccines will guarantee you 50 per cent protection against the virus.”

On how his body reacted to the vaccine, he explained: “The very first day I took it, I had raised temperature and acute headache but after a while I became normal.”

The Director of Hollywood International School, Asaba, Prof. Joan Okoh, also said he was not afraid to take the vaccine since government officials were taking it. “I’m taking it to prevent COVID-19 provided nobody dies in the process,” he said.

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However, the Principal Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-uku, Dr. Erere Joy Anho, said she would not take the vaccine because she does not understand its components. 

Mr. Ifeanyi Olannye, also said it would be difficult for him to take the vaccines.

“Initially, as a person, I didn’t see anything wrong about taking the vaccines. But as soon as the vaccines arrived in Nigeria, a lot of issues started cropping up, particularly outside the country. This is a pointer to a fact that there could be reactions to the vaccines. So, as it stands now, vaccination is good but for this one, I will want the government to slow down to actually investigate and prove that the vaccines are good.”

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