By Jamilu Nikau

The development of safe and effective vaccines against the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS COV-2), the causative agent of COVID-19 is arguably the most cheering news of the year. These vaccines provide an exit from the nightmares of the pandemic that so far killed over 1.7 million people and many more of its survivors suffering from long-term effects with accompanying crushing socioeconomic disruptions in all corners of the world.

But the euphoria of the vaccines’ efficacy and subsequent approval by some regulatory bodies is seriously threatened by unfounded messages against the virus and the new vaccines. Fake information, mostly via social media, has distorted public reactions since the onset of the pandemic. This harmful information against almost every facet of COVID-19 ranging from whether the virus is natural or not, the role of 5G network in its transmission, inflation of infection figures for monetary gains, harmful effects of face masks, unsubstantiated effectiveness of some drugs etc. As a result, public health authorities ‘efforts to control the virus have been seriously hampered despite the inability of perpetrators and disseminators of false information to substantiate their claims.

Conspiracy theorists have particularly target vaccines against COVID-19 even before the commencement of many clinical trials. Some of the falsehood shared include some people, notably Bill Gates is striving to amass monetary benefits from its sales; microchips will be inserted into all persons that will be vaccinated; the vaccines were hastily approved; the RNA used in the vaccine will incorporate into beneficiary’s gene, some people died or developed severe side effects after administration etc. It is pertinent to examine all these claims critically and clear all misconceptions.

Regarding the claims that the virus is man-made because some people stand to benefit from it; genetic experts clearly described the evolutionary pathway of its development. These should remove any doubts about its origin. It is illogical to think Bill Gates, a known philanthropist that retired from the multi-billion-dollar company he founded and donating a large portion of his fortune to the fight against diseases like polio, malaria, pneumonia, and many others will create this dangerous situation for monetary benefit. He would have also done a very poor job if the world population’s reduction is his goal as asserted by some people since the virus has killed just 0.0002% of the human population in one year and we seem to have a tool to control it. Moreover, the virus kills mainly elderly who are not in their reproductive years and will ordinarily die within a few years anyway.

No one could coherently explain how a microchip can be injected into humans via vaccination to monitor us; this is Hollywood script taken too far. If some powers want to monitor us at all, our mobile phones are enough to do this job. We willingly give out who we communicate with, how often we interact with our contacts and the content of our communications to governments via mobile networks. Our smartphones also have details of our bank transactions and places we visit. Why will someone put chips to monitor us if he can get much more information in the devices in our pockets?

Advancement in technology and willingness of governments/philanthropists to pour in resources to find solutions to the pandemic enabled scientists to develop vaccines in-record time. This was also facilitated by the rapid spread of the virus that fast-tracked observation of outcomes among volunteers enrolled in clinical trials; this process would have otherwise taken many years to notice a difference among people given the real vaccine and placebo during trials. In all stages of the vaccine developments, independent experts rigorously examined all the information to ensure all steps meet standards. Consequently, the vaccine’s approval was not rushed as claimed by people with a poor understanding of the processes.

Another claim against the vaccine is that the RNA in the vaccine will incorporate into one’s genetic makeup after vaccination. This is not true. The genetic information we manifest is in our DNA, whereas RNA’s role is to instruct our body to covert DNA message into substances our body manufacture. As such, the COVID-19 RNA vaccines will just instruct our defence mechanism to mobilise against the virus and will not have the ability to alter our genetic architecture. The RNA in the vaccine will self-destruct after executing its job just like a banana feel will get absorbed into the soil after few days.

Regarding side effects, COVID-19 vaccines like any drugs or vaccines will undoubtedly have some untoward effects. However, ten of thousands trial volunteers have been followed up to establish most of the effects are harmless; the same process being used in all vaccines development with no shortcuts. Rumours that some trial volunteers died after administration of the vaccine are false. Many anti-vaxxers are using a short video clip of nurse in Tennessee, United State of a nurse that collapsed shortly after receiving COVID-19 vaccine. What they did not share is that she recovered shortly thereafter and explained that she has a medical condition that made her to faint when she feels pain. This single isolated event should not be used to deter people from getting vaccinated. The transparent manner with which the vaccine is being developed and deployed guarantees communication of any critical information, example persons with allergies were advised not to receive the vaccine due to some observed higher occurrence of adverse reaction among them.

In conclusion, vaccination is the fastest way of reducing deaths and ultimately ending the pandemic. Governments and scientists globally ensured only safe and effective vaccines were approved. The public should disregard information from unknown sources on COVID-19, some of the merchants of fake news are the ones with hidden agendas, or they just for crave cheap popularity. Authorities should step up campaigns against people sharing inaccurate information and block them from reaching the public and as well as encourage individuals to follow only evidence-based recommendations. Members of the public should get information on the disease from trusted sources like the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), WHO and reputable news platforms.

Dr Jamilu Nikau is an epidemiologist in Abuja and can be reached via jinikau@gmail.com

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