The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 in collaboration with the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has commenced a nationwide advocacy campaign on the safety and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines in the six geopolitical zones of the country with the inaugural edition held in Lafia for the North-Central zone.

Speaking at the inaugural town hall meeting in Lafia, the Nasarawa State Capital, Chairman, PSC and Secretary to the Federal Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha urged all stakeholders to educate, sensitize and mobilize people to take responsibility for their loved ones by taking the vaccine.

“I enjoin all stakeholders to mobilize their community members to take advantage of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and get vaccinated against the virus to stop the transmission. That is the only option for now. Until we get a cure for COVID-19, the combination of non-pharmaceutical measures and the vaccine is the only way to go now,” he said.

Mustapha further stressed the government’s commitment toward the provision of good and accessible healthcare to the citizenry, saying “the federal government is committed to providing all necessary resources at our disposal in ensuring Nigerians have an unfettered access to COVID-19 vaccines.”

He added that “With the existing arrangement with development partners, Nigeria will continue to receive the vaccines which will arrive in batches to cater for over 70% of our population between 2021 and 2022 in line with the vaccination rollout  plan.”

He charged participants at the town hall meeting to sensitize their friends, relations and community members about the safety and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“As you leave this meeting today, promote vaccination among your peers, family members, friends and the entirety of our communities. Help disabuse the minds of your people from fake and unconfirmed news about the vaccines,” Mustapha added.

According to him, “We are battling with two viruses in this current pandemic; the COVID-19 as a virus and the dastardliest virus is the virus of fake news. You have a responsibility to ensure that our people do not believe in misinformation and fake news but to avail themselves of the opportunity that science has presented.”

Earlier, the Executive Director/CEO, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib said the town hall meeting aimed to discuss COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria, explore relevant perspectives and reach a consensus that will enrich the ongoing efforts by the government to ensure that Nigerians are protected from COVID-19.

Dr. Faisal also explained that “our health intervention model at NPHCDA has always involved consulting widely with stakeholders at national, state, LGA and community levels to ensure effective participation and collaboration in our planning, decision making and implementation processes.”

He said, “Today’s Town Hall Meeting, which brings together stakeholders from the North-Central states, comprising of Nasarawa, Kogi, Plateau, Kwara, Niger and Benue, is one of such planned series of engagements and consultations on COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria.”

On the safety of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine administered in Nigeria, the ED said NPHCDA is working closely with National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) as a regulatory body and that NAFDAC has since given its approval for the vaccine to be used.

“We are working closely with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) on pharmaco-vigilance to monitor, report and manage all reported cases of AEFI,” he said.

The ED added, “We are also collaborating with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to ensure vaccine security and accountability, as well as the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to further educate and sensitize Nigerians on the benefits of vaccination as a means of protecting themselves, their families and their communities, and ultimately, to facilitate the return to social and economic normalcy.”

In his address, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire noted that since the outbreak of the virus, COVID-19 had claimed the lives of millions across the globe, battered economies including Nigeria resulting in the fall of the country’s GDP by 23%, hence the need for people to take the vaccine for the country to achieve herd immunity necessary for socio-economic growth and development.

“Today’s event affords us the opportunity to inform citizens through eminent leaders seated here about the vaccination strategy and to address the concerns about aspects of the vaccination process we began early in March,” he said.

Dr. Ehanire disclosed that both President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo have already taken the vaccine and those who have taken are all well, sound and healthy.

“Our mission here today is to reassure traditional, faith and community leaders that the vaccines Nigeria uses are well tested. And I urge leaders to recommend them to their families and friends as the best protection we can get yet against this dreaded disease.”

He urged participants to take it as their civic responsibilities to sensitize the general public on the safety and benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine and to respect and observe COVID-19 protocols by wearing face masks, engage in regular hand washing and maintaining physical distancing.

In his remark, Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Alhaji Sule said the sensitization of the people of the North-Central on the deadliness of the virus was apt and timely.

Sule further disclosed that the state in response to the spread of the virus has set up and equipped isolation and treatment centres, testing kits to enable diagnosis without taking samples to other states.

He said Nasarawa State received 61,350 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on the 9th of March, 2021 and that the state has since commenced the rollout of the vaccination exercise, adding that himself, the Deputy Governor and members of the State Executive Council, as well as all the frontline health workers, traditional rulers, religious and opinion leaders and few other members of the society, had been vaccinated.

“In the same vein, both the Christian and Muslim intending pilgrims have gotten their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. I am happy to state that we have vaccinated the target group with the first dose. Accordingly, arrangements are underway to commence the second dose of vaccination in May, 2021,” he said.

Sule also said the town hall meeting would add impetus to the sensitization of the people in the zone and take the vaccination as a measure for the control of the virus, adding that the endeavour was necessary considering misinformation making the rounds in the social media against the vaccine.

The governor also stated that the state has completed Nasarawa State Infectious Disease, Diagnostics Research Centre, started by the erstwhile administration of Governor Tanko Al-Makura which conducts clinical trials for vaccines, drugs and other products in compliance with ethical standards.

“The centre supports training in public health and researches at all levels. It provides scientific guidance for the local production of vaccines, diagnostic kits, and other related health products,” he said.

He appealed to the federal government and the minister to assist the state by equipping the other areas of the centre especially the research site with state-of-the-art facilities to meet the global standard and reduce the rate of medical tourism for diagnosis and treatment of other viruses.