NOW THAT THE VACCINE IS HERE…
By Femi Olugbile
In the normal course of things, the arrival of a vaccine that is effective against COVID19 should be cause for universal celebration. This is an epidemic that has devastated virtually all the countries and territories in the known world for the past one year, leaving broken lives and disrupted economies in its wake.
There is nothing in living memory comparable to the medical, financial and psycho-social experience of COVID19. Many people have lived under partial or full lockdown for various lengths of time. Many have lost their livelihood and had to rely on government handouts or charity for the first time in their lives. And then there is the body count. As at Sunday 6th December 2020, more than sixty-seven million, two hundred people had been infected all over the world. Approximately one million five hundred and forty victims had died as a result of infection. Eighteen million, eight hundred and thirty million people were actively ill with the virus. Bizarrely, the United States of America, the country with the highest health spend per citizen, has alone had more than fifteen million infections and almost three hundred thousand deaths.
In the year or so since the world has lived with COVID19, a most unusual culture of misinformation and outright lies has plagued the atmosphere. The battle over ‘the truth’ of COVID19 goes back to the beginning of the scourge. In the official version, COVID19, a coronavirus in the mould of earlier, more circumscribed epidemics such as ‘Bird Flu’ and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), originated from a wet market in Wuhan Province of China. The virus ‘jumped’ from its animal host, suspected to be a pangolin, and latched onto a human victim.
Other narratives arose with lightning dispatch. A Military Sports competition had taken place in the region some months previously, at which an American contingent was said to have been present, though they did not compete. Could they have mistakenly, or deliberately, disseminated a virus created in the laboratory as a weapon of biological warfare?
The ‘theories’ got more bizarre. The virus was not a ‘natural’ pathogen, but something created in a Chinese military laboratory close to Wuhan, and inadvertently leaked into the atmosphere.
Still more complicated and elaborate ‘conspiracy’ stories made the rounds. There was really no ‘COVID19’, so the ‘pandemic’ was all fiction. A fragment of RNA had been created in the lab which caused symptoms similar to a bad flu and was really no more than that.
On the other hand, experts on infectious diseases warned that the world would not have a chance of getting back to normal until an effective vaccine was found for the infection. It was all an elaborate ploy to get people to take a vaccine which had been stockpiled in readiness, and which people like Bill Gates had been hinting about for several years, chimed in the conspiracy theorists with a knowing air. Biblical prophecies about End-times melded with Trump-era COVID19 denial and an active industry of lies centred among the President’s supporters in the USA, but with active focal points all over the world, especially in Nigeria. The vaccine was intended to be administered to the unwary. It contained a microchip that would give the user the ‘Mark of the Beast’.
No disease recorded in modern times has been invested with so much apocalyptic end-of-the-world significance as COVID19.
Countries in Europe and America are currently in the throes of a ‘second’ wave of the virus. It is a mark of the sense of desperate urgency felt by many governments and individuals all over the world that one hundred and eighty-four vaccines are in various stages of development in different countries all across the world, from China, to Russia to the USA.
But the real excitement has centred around the announcement of a vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech which offers almost complete protection from the virus. The UK put itself forward to become the first Western country to approve the use of the vaccine.
Not everybody is rejoicing at the news. There is in circulation a video of a massive demonstration that is supposed to have taken place recently in central London. Thousands of people, young and old, are seen chanting a message presumably directed at their Prime Minister and his government
‘Stick the vaccine up your ….’
In USA, such has been the surge of anti-vaccine sentiment that Bill Gates has had to deny publicly the presence of a microchip in any vaccine. Three living US Presidents, obviously not including Donald Trump, have volunteered to take vaccination on live television as a way of assuring citizens of its safety.
In Nigeria, some religious circles that have been associated with ‘COVID denial’ are now weaving tales suggesting there is something fishy about how quickly the vaccine was discovered and recycling the End-times microchip story in another form. The vaccine, they say, will alter the DNA of the receiver. It is an absurd notion, but one that has created fear and doubt in the minds of many people. Other rumours, equally unfounded, claim the vaccines were made from foetal cell derived from abortion.
Warnings of a second wave are met with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders or frank denial by members of the public. And yet COVID19 is still knocking off victims, who this last weekend included a popular billionaire in Ibadan and the wife of a Local Government Chairman in Lagos. Some of the people who recover from illness are left with long term health challenges.
To cap it all, the prospects of Nigerians getting the Pfizer vaccine soon are challenging, with costs that may run into tens of thousands of naira per person for the two doses.
As the world welcomes the rash of vaccines that may eventually help to remove COVID19 from the headlines, humanity faces another problem – how to face down the lies, conspiracy theories and financial barriers that may make the remedy unpalatable or unavailable to many of those those that need it the most.