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COVID-19 Vaccine: What should religious leaders tell their congregations now?

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Globally, controversy still dogs the COVID-19 vaccine, especially Astrazeneca variant, which has been either rejected or its distribution suspended by some countries in Europe. While some groups have expressed doubts about the motive of those spearheading its manufacture and are reluctant to avail themselves of the protection the vaccine is said to offer, others have tended to view the whole exercise with disdain, believing there is omnipotent force that could effectively tackle the virus. Here in Nigeria, some religious leaders have equally expressed reservation about the vaccine, with some urging their members not to go for it. They even went further to say that government officials, including President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, should be the first to publicly take the vaccine to allay fears and assure citizens that all is well. So, now that President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo and about 9, 000 Nigerians as at Thursday have taken the vaccine, what next for these religious leaders and their congregations? CHRIS IREKAMBA reports.

• ‘Any Individual That Feels That He/She Does Not Want It Should Not Be Rebuked’
• ‘My Christian Faith Tells Me To Put All Challenges Into Prayer, After Doing All We Can’
• ‘The Fear Of Risks In Taking Vaccine Lacks Scientific Proof’
• ‘I Believe It Is Real, But It Is Only Killing Certain People’

Imam Abdullahi Shuaib: Photos: Twitter.

‘We Should Not Discourage Our PeopleFrom Taking Vaccine’
(Dr. Imam Abdullahi Shuaib, Co-Chairman, NIREC Lagos State Chapter)
COVID-19 is a pandemic and the world body that regulates and approves administration of vaccines has given the go ahead. Those opposed to the vaccine based their arguments on conspiracy theories.

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Each country has its own agency responsible for approving the use of vaccines. In Nigeria, NAFDAC has approved administration of the vaccine and has equally debunked the rumour going round that the vaccine is inimical to health. It is normal for some people to react somehow when given a vaccine, but that does not write-off the efficacy of the vaccine.

Going by one of the Islamic legal maxims, ‘Certainty is not overruled by doubt,’ hitherto, some conspiracy theorists asserted that COVID-19 is not real, but we know now that it is real. Even those that did not initially believe it was real, got infected and were graciously saved by Allah after receiving early treatment before the virus could cause irreversible damage.

Another Islamic legal maxim, which says, ‘Harm is to be eliminated,’ makes it imperative for humanity to collectively find acceptable solution to the pandemic. If for now, the available vaccines are globally certified as remedies, the onus is on those who are skeptical and cynical to offer alternatives that meet global standards and best practices.

We cannot rule out some who may have different opinion. COVID-19 is a pandemic that requires a vaccine that would have undergone all the required clinical trials and certified safe before rolling it out for public use.

Now that both President Buhari and his Vice have taken the vaccine, has that softened the minds of the hardliners? The answer is no. My take is that we should not discourage our people from taking the vaccine, but any individual that feels that s/he does not want it should not be rebuked either.

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‘Both Preventive And Curative Medicine Are Strongly Encouraged’
(Dr. Ismail Musa, Chief Imam of Muslim Community University of Lagos (UNILAG)
THE arrival and distribution of the vaccine is a welcome relief and a manifestation of God’s mercy on humanity. We are delighted that our prayers are being answered. The potential of a complete victory over COVID-19 is now very high. The fear of risks in taking the vaccine lacks credible scientific basis. The AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine being administered in Nigeria and similar vaccines being used elsewhere, are widely accepted globally almost without any objection in many countries. We should be careful about disseminating retrogressive information.

There is evidence of low level awareness about the pandemic and efforts to checkmate its spread. Many Nigerians still source information through rumours and speculations, which in most cases are misleading. The responsibility to protect oneself from diseases and harm is an individual thing. Both preventive and curative medicine is strongly encouraged.  We should, at this time, solicit for increased access to the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure the entire country is vaccinated within a short span. The pandemic remains a huge threat until the last victim is cured and the virus completely incapacitated or eliminated altogether. We must continue to pray for a decisive victory over the pandemic. We must also act correctly as we supplicate to Allah.

Bishop Cyriacus.E.Uwanaka

‘Why Should I Tell My Members To Take COVID-19 Vaccine?’
(Bishop (Prof.) Iroelekanya Cyriacus Uwanaka, General Overseer of the Pentecostal Restoration Church, Mafoluku, Oshodi, Lagos)
I WILL not encourage my members to take the vaccine. My reason is that COVID-19 is only affecting big men in Nigeria; those who are jumping from one cool environment to another. They go from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned office and car. The disease, as we are told, thrives in cool environment. My members are not in that kind of condition. Our big men are the ones dying of COVID-19. I have not seen poor people dying of this disease. I am yet to see someone who has died of COVID-19 in Mafoluku, Oshodi, Lagos.

All this while as a pastor in Mafoluku, I have not seen or heard that a member died of COVID-19. Why should I tell my members to take COVID-19 vaccine? Malaria is worse than what they are calling COVID-19. Malaria is killing more people than COVID-19. It is killing big men, and that is why they are escalating it. If poor people are the ones dying like that, nobody will hear the kind of hype we are hearing about COVID-19. Malaria and tuberculosis are killing poor people and nobody cares about it. If you take malaria drugs to treat it, it’s going to work. None of our members have been involved and God forbids they will not be involved. It’s a big man’s affair.

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Personally, I know there is COVID-19, but it is for some people and some people are making real money out of it. They are using those who don’t know much about it to make money. They budgeted a whole N400 billion just for COVID-19 drugs. How much have they budgeted for malaria and tuberculosis and other diseases that are killing poor Nigerians?

Ayokunle

‘I Advise Christians To Avail Themselves Of Vaccine’
(Rev. Dr. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, National CAN President)
IT was a good example shown by the nation’s president and his vice to be publicly vaccinated. It puts to rest all controversies about the intention for the vaccine. Their public vaccination equally attested to the fact that government was aware of the people’s suspicion about the vaccine. If you followed the controversy, you would recollect that even medical experts, scientists and political leaders were suspicious of the motive behind the vaccination. It was not only religious leaders that were suspicious.

The fact that many nations are coming out with their own vaccine including Nigeria, which we learnt would soon have her own, the controversies surrounding the vaccination will be put to rest permanently.

In view of the above, I advise all Nigerians, especially Christians to make themselves available for vaccination because prevention is better than cure.

John Cardinal Onaiyekan

‘Govt Must Ensure Good Quality Vaccine, No Matter Brand Name’
(John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja)
I AM speaking on a personal note and not officially as an Archbishop speaking in the name of our Church, since I am now an emeritus. My position tallies with that of Rev. Dr. Ayokunle with the following additions: One, since Pope Francis has not only taken the vaccine, but has also actually advised all Catholics and other people to do the same, it is no longer a matter for debate on the level of our church doctrine. The conspiracy theories about alleged demonic intentions of the vaccine has never been in the mainstream of our church circles, though there are some fringe Catholics who are peddling them.

Two, the effectiveness and usefulness of the vaccine continues to be a matter for debate, mainly because there is still a lot that science has not yet unravelled about this new virus. In principle, the vaccine should remain voluntary. This would mean that no essential services should be denied those who decide to refuse the vaccine, e.g. travel.

Three, our government must ensure we have good quality vaccines in our country, no matter the brand name. We already hear of “fake” vaccines making the rounds.

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Four, if indeed the vaccine serves a useful purpose against COVID, then it must be made equitably available and free to all Nigerians. My Christian faith tells me to put all challenges into prayer, after doing all we can. So, we continue to pray for the end of this pandemic.

‘People Should Be Allowed To Exercise Freedom Of Choice’
(His Lordship, Bishop Titus Onyeozirila Akanabu (JP), PFN, Chairman, Imo State)
WE respect and fear God as His servants. We also try to follow the Holy Bible’s instructions. Our Bible says we should pray for rulers, the peace of the land and those in authority. Sometimes, certain rules may be at variance with both the written and unwritten instructions of God. When human laws and orders run contrary to religious beliefs or practices, then controversy sets in. And when things become controversial, it’s better not to apply force or compulsion; else there may be repulsion or recalcitrance to comply.

Therefore, anything that has to do with people’s faith and beliefs should not be trivialized, as their belief system means much to them.

In this issue of vaccination, my opinion is that since it is becoming so controversial, people should be allowed to exercise their freedom of choice to be vaccinated or not. Anything that has to be injected into the human body must be by conscientious agreement. People should not be forced to take the vaccine against their will or wish.

‘We Urge Muslims To Take The Vaccine Without Any Fear’
(Professor Ishaq Akintola, Director, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)
NIGERIA received almost four million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on March 2, 2021. The vaccination exercise has since begun as doses have been sent to various states of the federation. The Nigerian Islamic human rights organisation, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), joined the campaign in support of the vaccination. The group urged Nigerian Muslims and the rest of the citizens to take the vaccine without any fear.

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It is our candid opinion that Nigerians cannot afford to sit on the fence in the face of daunting COVID-19 statistics around the world. 122,033,780 cases have been confirmed globally as at last Thursday. There have also been 2,695,631 COVID-19 related deaths around the world.

We reaffirm the position of scholars of Islam especially that of the prolific Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah in his Majmu‘ al-Fataawa (37 volumes). The concensus of Islamic scholars is that vaccination is halaal (permissible). They cited the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) where he said ‘Seek medical treatment.’

COVID-19 vaccine is designed to give protection to those who take it by making their bodies produce substances known as antibodies whose function is to fight disease. We have seen our leaders (both at the federal and state levels) taking the injection. This is to build confidence in us. We urge Nigerian Muslims and the rest of the citizenry to embrace the vaccine. Let us obey our leaders as enshrined in the Glorious Qur’an (4:59). MURIC, therefore, calls on cynics to have a rethink, face reality and accept the vaccine.

We are concerned with the right of every Nigerian to live a healthy life free from any disease. In particular, we believe that Nigerian lives matter as no Nigerian deserves to lose his life to any epidemic when a panacea has been made available.”

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