Mixed reactions trail FG’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for civil servants
• Govt has responsibility to protect citizens — PROF DIMIE OGONIA
• Policy will help reduce COVID-19 infections — PROF INNOCENT UJAH
• WHO recommendation on vaccination should be considered — DR GODIYA ISHAYA
By Sola Ogundipe, Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale
THE announcement last week by the Federal government to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for civil servants from 1st December 2021, caught many Nigerians unawares. Mixed reactions have trailed the announcement.
More pronounced is the reaction from the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law, NBA-SPIDEL, Dr. Monday Ubani, who threatened to drag the federal government to court if it goes ahead to enforce the directive.
However, findings by Good Health Weekly showed that this approach by the Federal government may not be as strange as it sounds.
There are several countries that have adopted mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for their workforce even as others are implementing other restrictions for the unvaccinated.
Canada has imposed a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on federal workers, and all transport workers, while in France, healthcare workers must be vaccinated or face dismissal or suspension without pay.
In Italy, public and private sector workers must have a green pass showing vaccination proof, a negative test result, or recent recovery from COVID-19.
Any worker who fails to present a valid health certificate after five days on leave risks suspension without pay. Unvaccinated workers who go to work can be fined up to $2,000.
In the United States of America, all federal workers and contractors must be vaccinated, while private employers with 100 or more workers must require staff to be vaccinated by December, or get tested weekly. Violators could face termination. In Malaysia, Federal employees must be vaccinated by end of October or face disciplinary action. New Zealand has also made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for teachers, and healthcare workers
However, while some public health experts say although such policy cannot be proven scientifically it is necessary to protect more Nigerians from infection, others insist that such mandatory policy must take into consideration the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that it is always better if health interventions are accepted without coercion.
Govt has responsibility to protect citizens — Prof Ogonia
In a chat with Good Health Weekly, President, Nigerian Infectious Diseases Society, Prof. Dimie Ogoina who noted that government has a responsibility to protect the citizens argued that introducing a policy that mandate workers to take vaccine will not be enough as they need to ensure availability of vaccines as well as sustain enlightenment campaign on the benefits and side effects.
Ogoina explained that “Government needs to ensure sufficient quantity of this vaccine; it’s not enough to get people vaccinated if you don’t have a vaccine that can go round. The government also need to convince people that the vaccine is safe and protective while also sensitise people on side effect.
“The responsibility we all have as stakeholders is to continue to enlighten people and make them understand that a large number of people have been vaccinated in which about 5 billion across the globe had been vaccinated and close to 5 million Nigerians have also been vaccinated. Most of these people have tolerated the vaccines and these vaccines have been found to be effective and protective.”
Stating that the policy was morepolitical based on government’s responsibility to protect the people, he said: “You can’t say there is scientific evidence that suggest that vaccination should be mandatory. It is a societal and legal decision. It is not in every society or every group you need to request for mandatory vaccination but it is important to have many more people vaccinated to stop people from infecting others.
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“In terms of human rights, we all have our human rights. We need to strike a balance between where our own right end and where others begin because the problem with COVID-19 is not about an individual but public safety. You can spread the virus if you are not vaccinated so the government has a responsibility to protect people.
He said everybody has a right but there is need to strike a balance between where your own right ends and where others begin.
Encouraging Nigerians to go for vaccination, Ogonia who added that people are saying they will not take the vaccine because of misconception, misinformation or fear when people get vaccinated it decreases the chances of dying or having severe illness and hospitalisation.
“The vaccine is safe. A lot of these misconceptions and claims are not true. The vaccine does not alert your DNA. It does not have a micro chip most of these misinformation out there cannot be substantiated. There is need to inform people that the vaccines are safe.
“These are the vaccines we give our on regular basis and it’s the same brand of vaccine just that COVID-19 is a new disease. So, if the government is making it mandatory I don’t see anything bad in it just that it’s a matter of political and legal decision and not the necessarily based on science You cannot say there is a scientific evidence that vaccination must be mandatory.
Policy will help improve health-seeking behaviour of Nigerians —Prof Ujah
Also, in a chat, the National President of Nigeria Medical Association, Prof. Innocent Ujah said the policy will help to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus and improve health-seeking behaviour of Nigerians.
“We are in support of the policy introduced by the federal government because it will help to reduce the spread of the virus and improve health-seeking behaviours of Nigerians. What government needs to do going forward is to ensure the vaccine is available.
“My advice to civil servants is that they should make themselves available for the vaccine. Nothing negative about the vaccine, I took my own a long time ago and am still healthy and strong. I also believe that enforcement won’t be a problem because workers are under different agencies with heads that will ensure enforcement for the benefit of all.”
Ujah disclosed that vaccine hesitancy is not a new thing as it happened during polio, “but we need to understand that the eventual acceptability of the vaccine and immunization take us out of polio pandemic country.
FG should consider WHO recommendations on vaccination — Dr Godiya Ishaya
Reacting to the policy, the President of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, Dr Godiya Ishaya said the Federal government should take into consideration the World Health Organisation, WHO’s recommendation before coming up with such policy.
According to him, WHO says it is always better if health interventions are accepted without coercion. “This is achieved through robust public enlightenment which at the moment is not optimal concerning the COVID-19 vaccine, enough for people to buy-in freely. WHO then says, if it must be compulsory, it must fulfil certain criteria.
“Firstly, it has to be safe and effective. So far the vaccine is safe, however, is it effective? What local studies have been done to show that it is more effective than the other measures already used like facemask, handwashing and social distances. More so, that people still come down with the illness even after vaccination. These are questions to answer.
“Secondly, the vaccine must be available everywhere. This is another issue.
Thirdly, it should be targeted at those at risk. For instance, health workers and civil servants, the countries that have made this vaccine compulsory made it so for specific groups only. Already, the vaccine is not recommended for children, pregnant and nursing mothers. Those are already out of it.”
He said the decision making should be ethical even as it is compulsory, people should not be forced to take it.
“Also, the WHO said there should be public trust. This is an issue in Nigeria. There is hardly any trust between the citizens and the government enough for people to entrust their health into the hands of the government and believe that the government has their best interest. These are the issues that need to be considered before making the vaccination compulsory. Voluntary vaccination remains the best and ideal means,” he concluded.
He further noted that COVID-19 is a very important health issue because of the damage it has caused in the society in terms of global health, global economics, and security, adding that, vaccines are one of the preventive measures and have been introduced in Nigeria just as in other countries of the world.
Whether it is an infringement on human rights is for the lawyers to debate in court however we have public health laws which make provisions for this. If some people have taken the government to court, then it’s best to wait for the outcome of those cases before we can draw conclusions.
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