Today the world is facing a serious public health crisis, seen as the worst after the flu pandemic of 1918. Since the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus in Wuhan, in Hubei Province of China, back in October 2019, the world has never been the same again. The very contagious disease codenamed COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020.
As at the first week of November 2021, it had infected over 247 million people and claimed the lives of more than five million people globally. Statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that the disease has so far spread to more than 210 countries.
According to medical experts, COVID-19 spreads between people when an infected person is in close contact with another person. It spreads from an infected person’s mouth or nose when they cough, sneeze, breathe heavily or sing, in the process, releasing liquid particles of different sizes, ranging from larger ‘respiratory droplets’ to smaller ‘aerosols’.
The disease has an incubation period of between 2 and 14 days after exposure, within which an infected person can transmit the virus to a non-infected person. The symptoms include sneezing, coughing, fever, breathing difficulties, tiredness and loss of taste or smell.The virus can cause pneumonia, multiple organ failure and in severe cases, death.
The first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria was reported on February 27, 2020. Since the report of the index case in Lagos State, the number of cases has increased greatly across the 36 states of the federation. Nigeria has witnessed the first, second and third waves of the pandemic.
In the absence of drug treatment for COVID-19, the WHO and health authorities at national and sub-national levels recommended Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) for the containment of the disease. These interventions were targeted at restraining transmission between humans, slowing down the spread of the disease and thereby, reducing the burden on the healthcare system. They include social distancing, hygiene practices, restriction of movement, patient isolation, wearing of protective gears and public health information and communication.
The lockdowns and other restrictive measures resulted in grave socio-economic consequences in many countries including Nigeria, affecting the world of work adversely, both in the formal and informal sector. Quoting the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Reuters reported that 20 percent of workers in Nigeria lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the public sector, federal civil servants from Salary GradeLevel 12 down have been working from home since the outbreak of the pandemic, unlike most of their counterparts in the private sector who were laid off.Fortunately, the tide of lay off in the Private Sector was reversed due to a memorandum of understanding signed between the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) on 15th June, 2020.
Whilst in the past it took years to develop vaccines for epidemics and pandemics, courtesy of an unprecedented combination of global collaboration, funding and political will, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed at record speed. The debilitating effects of the pandemic sparked off the fastest vaccine race in the history of the world, culminating in the development of several viable vaccine options, such as Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines.
The main purpose of developing the vaccines is to help humans develop immunity against the virus, in order to limit its negative impacts on health, attendant socio-economic disruptions and threat to national and global communities.
Notwithstanding the challenges of inequity in vaccine distribution among the developed and developing countries, the vaccination of human beings against the disease has already progressed, with more than five billion vaccines so far administered globally. In some countries, evidence of vaccination is now a passport or visa to enjoy some things that others may not be able to enjoy.
But, in Nigeria, the vaccination rate has been very low as a result of vaccine hesitancy. According to WHO statistics, about 8.8 million vaccine doses have been administered at November 2, 2021 in a country with a population of over 200 million people. This is quite abysmal.
In a bid to reverse this trend, the Federal Government has mandated all civil servants to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The order was given last October by Boss Mustafa, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) who doubles as the Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19.
According to Mustafa, from December 1, 2021, workers who do not show proof of vaccination would be barred from entering their places of work in all locations within Nigeria and our foreign missions. The SGF further disclosed that an appropriate service-wide advisory/circular will be issued to guide the process.
It is important to point out at this juncture that Nigeria is not the only country that has attempted making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for civil servants. Early in October, Canada announced that it would place unvaccinated federal employees on unpaid leave. The federal employees were asked to declare their vaccination status through an online portal by October 29.
Regardless, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) rejected the planned enforcement of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination on workers and Nigerians. While unveiling the COVID-19 Advisory for Federal civil servants in Abuja, the NLC President, Comrade AyubaWabba, argued that though the efficacy of the vaccines have been proven, the Federal Government should adopt the tool of persuasion, rather than force to get workers and the general public to take the vaccine.
Based on the foregoing, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment is appealing to Nigerian workers to avail themselves of the opportunity created by the Federal Government through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency to get free vaccination against the COVID-19 disease. From all indications, the pandemic is far from over. The virus has continued to undergo mutations, developing new variants in the process. Since the vaccines have been proved to be effective, vaccination can keep us from getting ill and less likely to spread the virus to others. They can also stop us from getting seriously ill, even if we contract the virus. They help in preventing hospitalisation and deaths, thereby protecting and supporting our health system.
Scientific evidence has shown that there is no better way to build protection against a pandemic, such as COVID-19, than getting vaccination. Vaccination protects us from different variants of the virus. It equally protects people around us from getting infected with the virus.
The vaccines provide us with immunity and offer life saving protection against a disease that has killed millions of people. By receiving the vaccines, we are protecting our future generations.
Much more importantly, experts believe that it is better to rely on vaccination to attain herd immunity to COVID-19. Herd immunity or population immunity refers to when most of a population is immune to an infectious disease. This provides indirect protection or herd immunity or protection to those who are not immune to the disease. Reaching herd immunity means that those who cannot receive the vaccination (perhaps for medical reasons) are protected from the disease.
Taking the vaccines enhances the productivity of the worker, who in event of contracting the virus, would take time off from work, in addition to incurring huge medical bills while receiving treatment at the hospital.
Finally, when herd immunity is attained, life returns to normal and we are availed of opportunity once more to reconnect with our colleagues in the office, associates, family and friends. Workers and indeed all Nigerians who are yet to take the Jab are strongly encouraged to do so for individual and general common good.
– Tarfa Ph.D is the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment