By Salim Umar Ibrahim
Despite the government’s huge investment in the provisions of covid-19 vaccine across the country in a move to curtail the spread of the virus among citizens, the effort has recorded a massive setback courtesy of unruly and unpatriotic individuals who were handed the affairs of reaching out to the masses and administer the vaccine.
While Covid-19 came at a time and met countries across the world unprepared and taken unaware, the effect was a torn on the flesh of many as lives lost and suffering took a toll on economies across the globe. Nigeria wasn’t an exception.
But with the high belief that Nigeria and Africans will suffer the most, unclear factors have played a role in keeping this part of the world with minimal records compared to other continents.
A new world order came to play and found a place in societies and communities, corporate, business, and government establishments have adopted the new regulations and compliance rules set out by National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in every country. It was a moment to remember in the history of outbreaks recorded in the world.
Despite new cases of covid-19 pandemic recorded on daily basis in Nigeria by NCDC, vaccination against the disease has continued to suffer setbacks.
These setbacks were a result of misinformation on the safety of the covid19 vaccination that greeted the administering and uptake of the vaccines.
The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), has linked the low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine in the country to misinformation which it identified as one of the key factors.
The agency noted that the country’s challenge was majorly at the community level where a huge population was misinformed, thereby making people more vulnerable to Covid-19 infections.
This is evident in the number of Nigerians that have so far been vaccinated against covid-19 as available statistics by the NCDC said that Nigeria’s vaccination coverage stands at 27 million as of August 8, 2022, out of 140 million targets by the end of 2022.
Other statistics provided by NPHCDA is that over 26 million people have been fully vaccinated which represents 23.4 percent of the eligible population.
“Currently, our data shows that 26,127,761 eligible persons have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in Nigeria, having received the second dose of vaccine. The number of fully vaccinated persons represents 23.4 percent of the 111,176,503 eligible population targeted for full vaccination against Covid-19 in Nigeria”.
The story is not different in Kano state where the vaccination is also met with some form of resistance as a result of misinformation.
Here, the misinformation that greeted the vaccine uptake arises as a result of the side effect, Pfizer’s experience among others.
In the wake of covid-19, a weekly polling dashboard (22nd May 2020) shows that 21 percent of Kano residents believe the covid-19 is fake, 30 percent believe they are immune to covid-19 virus and only 46 percent are confident in the state government’s ability to cope with the virus.
Investigations revealed that this belief of Covid-19 is fake continues to play out as residents are still reluctant to avail themselves to be vaccinated, either for the first or second dose and then the booster dose.
Further investigation confirmed that in some instances, some people take the first doses and due to side effects they do not return for the second dose or return the booster dose.
This is also evident in statistics obtained from Gwale and Kumbotso local government areas where the investigations on how corruption marred the Covid-19 vaccine administration in Kano.
Available statistics as of August 2022 from the two LGAs show that there is a low Covid-19 risk perception.
This could be seen with the drop in the number of uptakes of the vaccines from the first dose to the booster dose.
Investigation in Gwale LGA revealed that a total of 786,512 people took the first dose, 780,279 took the second dose and 61,172 took the booster as against the targeted 588,500.
Similarly, in Kumbotso LGA, a total of 449,704 people took the first dose, 368,310 took the second dose and 157,671 took the booster dose against the 484,200 targets set for the LGA.
Corrupt Practices in Covid-19 Vaccine Administration in Kano
Undercover investigations conducted between July to October 2022 covering Gwale and Kumbotso LGAs have uncovered how health workers compromised professional ethics driven by corruption to mar the administration of the Covid-19 vaccine in Kano.
In an unprofessional attitude, health workers collect bribes and issue Covid-19 vaccination cards without administering the vaccine.
Physical interviews with residents in some of the areas in Maidile in Kumbotso Local Government Area further exposed the corrupt practices adopted by medical health workers to issue the Covid-19 vaccination card.
This act contravenes the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act, a legislation that regulates health practitioners in Nigeria which mandates health workers to safeguard the public at all times and ensure professional misconduct, incompetence, or unethical practice is not allowed or condoned.
Probing the processes followed to get vaccinated in both LGAs showed that people obtain the vaccination card through illegal means by obtaining card through giving bribes to officials and getting the card in order to attend workshops, seminars, and inter-country travels inclusive, many were not against it but misinformation and experience kept them at a distance while emergency travels pushed many to follow suit and obtain the illegal vaccine cards.
During the undercover investigations, it was discovered that the health workers carried out these corrupt practices in a careful manner to avoid traces of fraudulent practice in the process of uploading the fake data to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) Covid-19 vaccination platform.
An official in one of the vaccination centers in Gwale, Audi Suleiman, (not real name) who confided in our reporter revealed that most centers have some unruly staff who issue the cards without following due process.
He, however, refused to name any health facility where unethical and unprofessional conduct is practiced in any of the two LGAs.
The official process of obtaining the covid-19 vaccination card is by going to the vaccination center, taking the dose, and officials administering or rather, presenting the card with one’s details.
He revealed that: “The issue of corrupt officials sabotaging the cause of Covid-19 vaccination administration is not connected to Gwale and Kumbotso LGAs alone, it is an issue in other LGAs and the country at large, it happens everywhere. Go down to the centers undercover or engage an official secretly, they know themselves as those who are doing it.
“They might not register you in the main register. Most of the time they collect your money and promise to bring the card without you even going to the center to get it. Right from the comfort of your home or office. It’s about business (how much you pay).
“There is no specific amount being collected from people. It depends on the relationship and approach. Someone can collect up to N30,000, N5,000, or even for free.
“What they do at the end is, they calculate the amount of that and destroy the number of vaccines or even give you to depose it just to get rid of it.”
In trying to establish the fact behind the claims of Suleiman, an investigation was conducted on a private consultant and businessman, Abdulazeez Musa of the Dan Maliki area of Kumbotso local government said, work did not allow him to take any dose of the vaccine coupled with kind of scary information he is getting about the covid-19 vaccination.
He disclosed that he needed the card to fulfill due diligence for his business. He approached a particular medical staff via phone to advise him on what to do, he said bye and large, and he was charged N30,000 just to get the card expressly within 12 hours.
Musa explained the situation: “This happened when I wanted to attend an emergency function in Abuja then; it was the type of event that they even specify that the vaccine card is part of the documents that will admit participants even if they are on invitation.
“It was already late evening and the travel was scheduled for early morning the following day. I reached out to a friend and he also made some calls to health workers that he knew. Finally, someone offered to help, he said I can get the vaccination card but it will cost me N30,000.
“I paid and the same night around 11:30 pm, I was informed that it was ready because I have forwarded my details earlier. We agreed to meet by 6 am the following day and I got the card.”
On her part, Aisha Aminu, a businesswoman and a resident of the Medile area who sells fairly used clothes from Cotonou in Benin Republic disclosed that she had her first dose and got the card legally because of her inter-country travel but would not take any other doses of the vaccine due to bad experience.
“Honestly, I did not believe in the vaccine from day one but because of my travel to other countries, I have to do it. We can get away with it and find ways here in Nigeria but not outside this country.
“The first dose really took a negative effect on me as I went through a lot of headache and fever hence, I did not mind getting the rest of the doses. I took the first one just because of my business and nothing else.”
All efforts (telephone calls, text messages, and personal visits) to reach the officials of the Kano State Primary Healthcare Management Board (KSPHCMB) for an official response failed.
However, experts are of the view that the covid-19 pandemic is still very much around and ravaging all parts of the country hence the need for Nigerians not to lose guard.
This investigation has shown that 1,627,963 (one million, six hundred and twenty-seven, nine hundred and sixty-three) people were vaccinated in Gwale LGA and the total for Kumbotso LGA which is 975,685 (nine hundred and seventy-five thousand, six hundred and eighty-five) who took the first, second and booster doses as indicated by the Kano State Primary Healthcare Management Board may not accurate as a reasonable number of people may have gotten the Covid-19 vaccine cards without being vaccinated.
Kano state, the two LGAs, and the public are at a high public health risk because of this ugly corrupt practice in the already weak health system which in the long run would affect citizens in the state.
This report was supported by the CHRICED Project of Strengthening Maternal Healthcare through Accountability Interventions in Kano State.