COVID-19 versus Vaccination: Between the Devil and the Red Sea for Nigerians

COVID-19 versus Vaccination: Between the Devil and the Red Sea for Nigerians

In 2019, no one imagined it. No one believed it that coronavirus would emerge and overwhelmed everyone. From late 2019 to the end of 2020, people and businesses were disrupted. Interest in knowing the genesis of the disease and how the stakeholders, especially government officials were managing it was high on the digital and physical spaces.  Attention was paid to why governments and drug manufacturers should speed their vaccine production for the disease. Comparative analysis of the interest in coronavirus vaccine and the disease indicates a wide gap [see Exhibit 1].

Exhibit 1: Public Interest in Coronavirus and Vaccines in 2020

Source: Google Trends, 2021; Infoprations Analysis, 2021

The Disease Related Messages Deconstruction

From the public to the private sector, efforts were made during the first wave of the disease to enlighten people and businesses on the best practices to prevent the spread of the disease. Despite this, Nigeria recorded a number of cases and deaths. The Coalition Against COVID-19, a public sector collaboration organisation, developed and disseminated various messages in addition to what state and federal governments communicated to the public. Surprisingly, our analysis of over 1,000 messages from the social media platforms of the organisation and others in 2020 revealed a wide disparity between stakeholders’ intent of preventing the spread of the disease and the readiness of the citizens to apply the messages.

Our analyst examined messages that had the purpose of educating citizens about the preventive measures and informing them about cases and deaths being recorded every day. The focus was also on the messages that stressed the need to stop the spread of the disease. From 439 messages mined from the social media platform of the CACOVID, 28.01% messages were reinforced by the followers. The reinforcement, according to our definition, is the follower’s acceptance of the message and readiness to apply lessons from it in the physical sphere. Over 63% of 193 messages from the Lagos State Ministry of Health were reinforced. On the social media platforms of the Lagos State Government and the National Centre for Disease Control, 47.18% and 35.79% messages out of 426 and 1,123 were reinforced respectively. Over 25% of 362 messages from the social pages of the Presidential Task Force were reinforced by the followers. The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture had the least percentage of message reinforcement. According to our analysis 11.02% of the Ministry’s 390 messages were reinforced. Over 20% of 1,022 messages from the pages of the Federal Ministry of Health were reinforced.

With these results, our analyst notes that the ongoing negative reactions towards the use of foreign and local vaccines should not surprise concerned stakeholders because the responses to the public communication during the first wave had clearly shown that the introduction of the vaccine would attract negative reactions from the public.

We Want, We Don’t Want

It is not really a surprise that Nigerians are contemplating on being vaccinated or not. The divergent view is a global one. From the Europe to America, people are doubting the efficacy of the first vaccines from manufacturers. More than 71% of 13,426 people surveyed in 19 countries that they would be very or somewhat likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine, and 48.1% reported that they would accept their employer’s recommendation to do so.

In Nigeria, 80% of 465 people studied by a team of researchers from Babcock University were unwilling to participate in the COVID-19 vaccine trial, while 20% were willing. According to the researchers,  age, gender, educational level, religion, occupation, nature of monthly income and geopolitical zone had no significant impact on the perception and readiness to participate in the COVID-19 vaccine trial.  Over 17% were against the COVID-19 vaccine trial, 15.3% were in support and willing to participate if given a chance, while only 6.2% of the respondents indicated interest in participating in the vaccine trial even if it will affect their daily life activity. 9.7% and 52.3% of them opined that vaccine trials should be initiated in residential homes and isolation centres, respectively. More than 39% (185/465) feared that the vaccine may not be affordable and accessible for the common man.

Eighty percent (80%) were afraid of adverse effects/complication that may be associated with the vaccine, 30.8% were afraid of the vaccine been used as a medium for implantation of microchips, 11.8% were afraid of disruption of daily routine, 26.9% fear that the vaccine may be used as a biological weapon, while 50.5% are afraid of vaccine related death.

Superior Participatory Community Engagement

From the messages deconstruction to the views expressed about the vaccine, it is glaring that Nigerian stakeholders need superior participatory community engagement in the digital and physical spheres. Government actors with adequate knowledge of the efficacy of the vaccines and explication of adverse effects must be deployed as influencers on social media. They also need to participate in community sensitization at Town Halls and other places deemed appropriate for spreading vaccine related messages. The identified Ministries and Governments in our analysis of message deconstruction need to work on their reply approach to messages being posted on the social media platforms. Inclusive interaction and engagement on the platforms matter now as the second wave continues.

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