On 1st September 2021, the Associated Press (AP) in a news report by Ricardo Alonso-Saldivar titled Questioning a catchphrase: ‘Pandemic of the Unvaccinated’ said that “this summer’s coronavirus resurgence has been labeled a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ by government officials from President Joe Biden on down”. Why is this so one may ask? The report revealed that “the glaring reality” is “that unvaccinated people overwhelmingly account for new cases and serious infections, with a recent study of government data showing that hospitalisation rates among unvaccinated adults were 17 times higher than among those fully vaccinated (Emphasis added). According to President Joe Biden ‘the pandemic of the unvaccinated is a tragedy that is preventable’” (See: https://apnews.com/article/health-pandemics-coronavirus-pandemic-9845c7257300ff6546c20489e642a1ea).
Then on 3rd November 2021, the CNN reported that Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country was experiencing a “massive” pandemic of the unvaccinated as authorities raised the alarm on rising infections and increased pressure on hospitals due to Covid-19 admissions. The number of infections is increasing, as well as the number of deaths from Covid and especially the number of patients in intensive care units in some regions of Germany, regions where vaccination rates are not as high as in other regions, (See https://edition.cnn.com/2021/11/03/europe/germany-fourth-wave-unvaccinated-intl/index.html).
Furthermore, the German minister said that “the truth is that there would be far fewer Covid-19 patients in [intensive care] if everyone who could do it got a vaccination.” The minister then called for measures to “strengthen checks at public venues where only those with proof of vaccination or a Covid-19 recovery certificate will be granted entry”.
Both of these reports are all warning signs that Nigerians and indeed Africans should not take the mercy of God for granted by ignoring protective measures against this pandemic. The fact is that as long as this COVID-19 pandemic subsists, the observance of non-pharmaceutical safety measures should be a way of life. However, a general observation in public gatherings reveals that many Nigerians have become complacent forgetting that this pandemic is here with us for a while.
Although, the massive vaccination programme of governments across the country is progressing well, many Nigerians however are yet to go for their vaccination in spite of the enlightenment campaigns and persuasive efforts going on across the country. The low or slow response accounts for why more state governments have joined in making the presentation of vaccination certificate or negative COVID-19 test result, a condition for entry into their work places. This policy should be strictly enforced both by the federal and state governments that have already adopted the vaccine mandate policy. This is the minimum that can be tolerated in the interest and promotion of public health, for after all, some other countries are already implementing a more stringent policy in this regard.
In the United States for example, the ABC news of 30 September 2021 reported that “hundreds of health care workers across the country are being fired or suspended in droves for not complying with COVID-19 vaccine mandates. President Joe Biden announced earlier this month a vaccine mandate for health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, impacting some 17 million health care workers in the nation. States including New York, California, Rhode Island and Connecticut also set vaccine mandates for health care workers that take effect this week” (See. (https://abcnews.go.com/US/hundreds-hospital-staffers-fired-suspended-refusing-covid-19/story?id=80303408).
Specifically, ABC news further reported that “in North Carolina, the Novant Health hospital system, which has over 35,000 employees across 15 hospitals and over 800 clinics, fired around 175 of its workers for failing to get vaccinated…In Texas, Houston Methodist Hospital, which has some 26,000 employees, saw 153 employees quit or fired over the vaccine requirement after the June 7 deadline to get the shots. Of those, 26 were nurses…In Delaware, 150 employees left ChristianaCare, a major hospital system in the state, after they failed to meet the Sept. 21 deadline to get vaccinated…In New York, hundreds of staffers have been suspended this week and risk losing their jobs as the statewide vaccine mandate for health workers reached its first dose deadline…In New York City, about 500 nurses for NYC Health + Hospitals are not at work and have been preemptively replaced. Unvaccinated workers have been placed on unpaid leave but can return once they get their shot” (ABC news, September 30, 2021).
Again in the United Kingdom for example, the inews of November 3, 2021 reported that, “all NHS staff in England will have to get both Covid-19 and flu vaccines or risk losing their job as the Government prepares to crackdown on those who still refuse to get protected… Although the vast majority of the health service’s 1.4 million employees have already been vaccinated against Covid, around 100,000 people have yet to do so” (See https://inews.co.uk/news/health/all-nhs-staff-in-england-will-need-mandatory-covid-and-flu-vaccines-or-risk-losing-their-jobs-1281852. In fact, it has been widely reported in the press that these 100,000 NHS staff have been directed to get vaccinated or lose their job. It is either you get a jab or lose your job. This is the reality in some other countries which Nigerians who are yet to go for vaccination and still kicking against federal and some state governments’s vaccine mandate policy (which even offers them the ‘luxury’ of an option) need to consider.
The truth is that as President Joe Biden rightly stated above, “the pandemic of the unvaccinated is a tragedy that is preventable”. This wise and instructive statement should inspire other countries such as Nigeria, to continue to take proactive measures to avert this preventable scourge. Consequently, in order to avert the occurrence of a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ in Nigeria, there is a need to keep our eyes fixed on the ball to make sure that the unvaccinated do not pose serious risk to our public health. The saying that to be fore-warmed is to be fore-armed (forewarned is forearmed) is a reminder that proactive measures should continue to be taken by federal and state governments against the spread of COVID-19. However, the greater focus of such proactive measures should be on the unvaccinated section of the population.
Prof. Obasi is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja, Email: [email protected].