For many discerning minds, the announcement by the Federal Government on Wednesday, 13 October 2021, to make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for its employees with effect from December 1, 2021, did not come as a surprise. This is because, over a month ago (precisely in September, 2021), the Federal Government had given the indication that it was considering adopting the policy for its employees. The month of September was the time that the Edo State Government (policy pathfinder) and Ondo State Government (co-pathfinder) courageously announced the adoption of the compulsory policy for their workers amid wide protests notably in Edo State.
The announcement by the Federal Government which was made by the Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, unequivocally stated that “with effect from 1st December, 2021, Federal Government employees shall be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result done within 72 hours, to gain access to their offices, in all locations within Nigeria and our Missions.”
Some critics have raised objections to the compulsory character of this policy. Their thinking is that it breaches the liberty of individuals who are not willing to take the COVID-19 vaccines. But the issue is that this policy is not 100% compulsory, as there is an option for those who outrightly refuse to take the vaccine.
However, the option itself has a compulsory requirement and which is that an unvaccinated person must present “a negative COVID-19 PCR test result done within 72 hours.”
Some people may ask: what is this PCR test that must be compulsorily presented as an alternative to remaining unvaccinated? According to the Cleveland Clinic “the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 is a molecular test that analyses your upper respiratory specimen, looking for genetic material (ribonucleic acid or RNA) of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Scientists use the PCR technology to amplify small amounts of RNA from specimens into deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which is replicated until SARS-CoV-2 is detectable if present. The PCR test has been the gold standard test for diagnosing COVID-19 since authorised for use in February 2020. It’s accurate and reliable.” (See https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21462-covid-19-and-pcr-testing).
Seen in this light therefore, the policy gives option for a person to remain unvaccinated but makes it compulsory for that person to present a negative PCR test result within 72 hours. The choice is freely within the power of the individual to decide to remain unvaccinated. However that choice, must NOT (emphasis ours) endanger public health which is what a negative PCR test result within 72 hours compulsorily demands. Critics of the compulsory vaccination policy who say that it restricts the liberty of an individual have, therefore, no case to make as the policy has expressly given an individual the freedom to select from the two options namely (a) get vaccinated or (b) show a negative PCR test result.
The Federal Government is on a right path to enforce this mandatory vaccination policy as announced. There are many good reasons to enforce the implementation 1 December 2021. First, the protection of public health is paramount not only in Nigeria but all over the world. The aviation industry as well as its tourist counterpart became the worst economically hit under the pandemic because of measures taken by many countries to protect public health. In fact, priority was placed on public health than on pursuit of money. This goes to show that in the public space, the exercise of freedom (liberty) is allowed to the extent that it would not endanger public health namely the health of the generality of the population.
Secondly, since COVID-19 pandemic kills people on a large scale or on an unimaginable proportion, everything within the realm of civility must be made to mitigate its devastating effects. Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported few days ago that global record of cases and death showed a declining trend, Nigerians should not forget however that this pandemic is still ravaging the world. For example, according to The Moscow Times, Russia on Monday, 18 October 2021, reported a new record high number of “34,325 cases and 998 deaths over the last 24 hours.” It revealed further that on Tuesday, 19 October 2021, Russia reported 33,740 new cases and 1,015 deaths (See The Moscow Times, Tuesday, 19 October, 2021 via https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/10/19/coronavirus-in-russia-the-latest-news-oct-19-a69117). Since Nigerians (including our public servants) travel a lot all over the world, the Federal Government is on the right path to take measures to protect her citizens. And the most appropriate and effective measure under this pandemic is vaccination of as many people as possible.
Thirdly, in many countries, a good number of people have not been obeying the COVID-19 safety protocols thereby endangering the health of many in society. This is even worse in Nigeria, as many people in social and religious gatherings have been seen violating COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical protocols even with impunity, and as if they are taking God’s mercy for granted. In spite of all the risk communication messages from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and from other agencies of the federal and state governments, many Nigerians have been conducting their affairs with the business-as-usual mentality.
Fourthly, such a business-as-usual mentality that many Nigerians operate is very dangerous to public health and therefore requires measures such as compulsory vaccination to check the spread of the virus. As of Sunday, 17 October 2021, NCDC updated figure as reported by the Daily Trust newspaper (Tuesday, 19 October 2021) revealed that Nigeria recorded 33 new COVID-19 deaths. This shows that we are not yet out of the woods, yet many Nigerians speak of COVID-19 in the past tense. Again, as the Daily Trust further reported, the NCDC’s Director, Health Emergency Preparedness and Response, John Oladejo, announced that COVID-19 cases increased in Nigeria by 4.3% in week 40. He also pointed out that in the last seven days (about two weeks ago) Abia, Anambra, Cross River and Edo States recorded a high number of cases. All these go to support the adoption of a compulsory vaccination policy by the Federal Government, as the virus is still active.
Fifthly, for those who argue that full vaccination is not really the antidote citing cases of some people who took the vaccination and still died, they are ignorant of how science works. Some will even cite the case of a very high profile American General and distinguished diplomat, Colin Powell, who recently died in spite of being fully vaccinated. An example such as this shows that these critics have limited understanding of science, as few deviations from the mean do not invalidate a confirmed hypothesis (proven fact). A man who died at the age of 84 years following complications from COVID-19 with an underlying condition (namely cancer and Parkinson’s disease), had done pretty well. And being fully vaccinated (when such underlying illnesses could provide a fertilizing ground for any little disease or attack to fester), is beside the point. Our medical experts can explain better.
In conclusion, as this column argued in September 2021 in support of the adoption of compulsory vaccination policy by Edo and Ondo States, the implementation of this policy “is the way to go in the interest of public health. In any case, the policy is becoming a global best practice as no one can travel to some countries presently without showing evidence of having been vaccinated. Again, across the world, many COVID-19-related deaths that are recorded now are predominantly among the unvaccinated”. (See COVID-19 and enforcement of compulsory vaccination policy, September 24, 2021 via https://sundiatapost.com/covid-19-and-enforcement-of-compulsory-vaccination-policy-by-isaac-n-obasi/). These demonstrate clearly that the policy is timely and auspicious.
•Prof. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: [email protected].