…Only 3.6m citizens’ve received vaccines – NPHCDA
…Mandatory vaccination’ll limit virus spread – Experts
…It violates existing labour terms, fundamental rights – Ubani
‘Govt should focus on entire population rather than its workers’
‘…Civil servants now buy forged Covid-19 vaccination certificates’
Nigeria is currently witnessing a surge in Covid-19 infections largely due to the refusal of many citizens to adhere to Covid-19 guidelines on the one hand and vaccine apathy on the other. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report takes a look at the moves by the federal and some state governments to make vaccinations compulsory.
The federal government has directed all its employees to get vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus as this will soon become a prerequisite for gaining access into their various offices. The chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, announced the new directive at its briefing, recently.
Mustapha said beginning December 1, 2021, all federal government employees would be required to show a proof of Covid-19 vaccination or present a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) result to gain access to their offices.
“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,” he had said.
He noted that appropriate service-wide circular would be issued to guide the process. He had, on September 2, 2021, said the Covid-19 vaccination would be compulsory for federal civil servants once vaccines were available for everyone.
Statistics released by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) on September 7, 2021, showed that so far, only 3.6 million persons had received vaccines, while about 1.5 million out of this figure have completed their dosage. The implication is that less than one per cent of Nigerians are fully vaccinated.
Speaking with Blueprint Weekend via WhatsApp, the medical director of Rhema Diagnostics, Israel Omotunde, said vaccine scarcity is partly responsible for vaccine hesitancy.
He said, “It is bad enough that the country witnessed a setback in the vaccination drive between July and August due to a scarcity of doses. With the arrival of more vaccines in recent weeks, it was expected that Nigerians would throng the various health centres across the country for vaccines, but this has not been the case. For those who are willing, vaccines are available in many centres, but many are refusing to take them. Consequently, the infection rate has continued to soar.”
Likewise, the Kaduna state government on Tuesday, this week, announced a 12-day ultimatum for all civil servants in the state to receive Covid-19 vaccines in the latest of compulsory vaccinations push embarked on by the federal and some state governments.
The ultimatum was announced in a statement issued by the special adviser to the governor on media and communication, Muyiwa Adekeye. According to the statement, all civil servants are expected to be vaccinated by October 31, after which they will be denied entry into government offices if found not to have complied with the directive.
In Ondo, the state government stated that it would begin barring its employees from gaining access to their work places beginning November 1, if they failed to obtain vaccinations against Covid-19. The order was made known on Wednesday in Akure by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Segun Odusanya.
According to him, the decision became necessary in view of the ravaging effects of Covid-19 and its attendant morbidity. Odusanya warned that presentation of the Covid-19 vaccination card and compliance with its protocols would be the gate-pass to the work place from November 1.
He said those without the card would not be allowed into the ministries and other areas of the secretariat, adding that the order would be enforced as a means of protecting members of staff.
The permanent secretary, therefore, urged civil servants to prioritise their health by doing routine checks of their blood pressure, blood sugar and other necessary checks as certain deaths could be prevented if one is careful and sensitive.
“Be conscious of your health, do routine checks. Be up and doing on your jobs, stay in your offices, face the reality of the economic situation in the country, don’t spend recklessly and make good use of the little that is available to you and all will be well,” he said.
Findings by Blueprint Weekend showed that several countries have adopted mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policies for their workforces.
Canada has imposed a mandatory Covid-19 vaccine for its federal workers and all transport workers, while in France, healthcare workers must be vaccinated or face dismissal or suspension without pay.
In Italy, public and private sector workers must have a green pass showing vaccination proof, a negative test result, or recent recovery from Covid-19.
“Any worker who fails to present a valid health certificate after five days on leave risks suspension without pay, while unvaccinated workers who go to work can be fined up to $2,000,” according to a directive.
In the United States of America, all federal workers and contractors must be vaccinated, while private employers with 100 or more workers must require staff to be vaccinated by December, or get tested weekly. Violators could face termination.
In Malaysia, federal employees must be vaccinated by the end of October or face disciplinary action. New Zealand has also made Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for teachers, and healthcare workers
However, mixed reactions have greeted the announcements by the federal and some state governments to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for civil servants and citizens.
A consultant virologist, Prof. Uchenna Maduka, told this reporter that unlike in previous circumstances, he backs the federal government on mandatory vaccination.
He said: “I have on several occasions disagreed with the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 (PTF)/Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on some of their orders; however, on this one, they have my support. The government has made it easy for civil servants to access the vaccine by providing sufficient number of doses and has given the civil servants up to December 1 to get vaccinated.
“The purpose of mandatory vaccination is to limit the spread of the virus through uncontrolled human transmission and thereby reducing the development of new variants. Immunity developed after vaccination against the existing/original virus strain may not be so effective or protective against the new variants. Therefore, the less or complete absence of new variants is to all our advantage.”
On whether the directive violates fundamental human rights of civil servants or not, Maduka said: “Those who have medical contraindications for not taking the vaccine have the right not to be infected by those who refuse to take the vaccines for other non-medical reasons.
“It is the balance of the right of the majority over that of the individual. In any case, the government is giving conditions for entering public premises and buildings, just as organisations have rules and regulations for those permitted to enter their premises. In addition, those who prefer not to take the vaccines, have the choice of providing negative laboratory tests only twice in a week.”
Also, the national president of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Innocent Ujah, told Vanguard that the policy will help to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus and improve health-seeking behaviour of Nigerians.
He said, “We are in support of the policy introduced by the federal government because it will help to reduce the spread of the virus and improve health-seeking behaviours of Nigerians. What the government needs to do going forward is to ensure the vaccine is available.
“My advice to civil servants is that they should make themselves available for the vaccine. Nothing negative about the vaccine, I took my own a long time ago and I am still healthy and strong. I also believe that enforcement won’t be a problem because workers are under different agencies with heads that will ensure enforcement for the benefit of all.”
Ujah noted that vaccine hesitancy is not a new thing as it happened during polio, “but we need to understand that the eventual acceptability of the vaccine and immunisation take us out of the polio pandemic as a country.”
However, the chairman of Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Dr. Monday Ubani, has said he would not hesitate to drag the federal government to court if it goes ahead to enforce the directive on compulsory vaccination for civil servants.
Describing the directive as “insensitive,” Ubani stated that compulsory vaccination “violates the existing labour terms and the fundamental rights of the civil servants to their privacy, life, movement, religious belief and faith, and liberty.”
He said, “Any directive on compulsory vaccination is immature, needless, unacceptable and should be totally rejected.
“The punishment of denial of access to office by the directive is a clear violation of the contractual terms of employment, and secondly, a restriction to freedom of liberty and movement guaranteed under Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
“When these civil servants were employed, compulsory vaccinations and its attendant punishment for non-compliance were not part of their terms of contract. This new policy is a rude interruption to cordial labour relationship and is against international best labour practices.
“The federal government is hereby put on notice that any intention to pursue this illegal policy will be met with stiff legal challenge.”
Ubani further noted that in the absence of any substantive legislation that makes Covid-19 vaccination compulsory, such policy directive which would invariably take away guaranteed rights, is illogical, unlawful, null and void.
He also insisted that the best policy for the country remains that the citizens be not allowed to lower the guard in preventive measures in dealing with the pandemic.
“As the government has failed to concretely convince the citizens on the issue of health, safety and bodily harm of this vaccination, they are advised to desist from pursuing their present policy that is in collision course with the bodily integrity of the citizens.
“They should rather utilise persuasive methodology to get citizens convinced of the benefits of the said vaccinations but most importantly, they are advised to pursue free education, free health policies and other social welfare policies and make them compulsory for the citizens which will in turn attract accolades for the government.”
Likewise, a legal practitioner, Dienma Princewill, in a chat with this reporter, said there is no provision of the law mandating Nigerians to take vaccines.
“You know sometime last year, the government proposed the Control of Infectious Disease Bill 2020, otherwise known as the NCDC Bill, which didn’t see the light of the day. So, there is nowhere in the law that says that people should be forced to take the vaccine.
“The federal, Edo, Osun and state governments should come out and point out where it is written in the law that citizens will be forced to take the vaccine.”
Meanwhile, the executive-director of Gender and Reproductive Rights Watch, Azuka Eboh, a non-governmental organisation, told Blueprint Weekend that the government should focus on the entire population rather than civil servants alone.
She, however, urged the government to educate citizens on the need to take the vaccine rather than apply force.
She said, “There is a basic rule of law which stipulates that one’s human right stops where others’ rights begin. You have a right to refuse vaccines, but you do not have the right to endanger the health of others.
“I am also concerned that the focus is on workers alone, rather than the entire population. We must note that the battle against the virus cannot be worn in that manner. Any effort towards tackling Covid-19 must be one that would incorporate all citizens. The government should also be careful not to create a window for Nigerians to forge fake Covid-19 vaccination certificates.
“Before government enforces the mandatory policy, there is a need for massive and coordinated enlightenment campaigns at all levels to educate citizens on the dangers of not getting vaccinated. Traditional and religious leaders as well as non-governmental organisations should be involved in this advocacy that should aim at tackling vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. Citizens’ response to issues of responsibility is better appreciated when done out of conviction, not out of coercion. People need to be convinced that aside from endangering the lives of others, they could be denied entry into other countries for not taking Covid-19 vaccination.
“When vaccination centres become easily accessible to all Nigerians, it would be time to proclaim the mandatory law. At that stage, there could be sanctions for individuals who refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19, including denying them certain privileges as citizens.”
Investigation by Blueprint Weekend revealed that in a bid to avoid the government sanctions, Nigerians especially civil servants are procuring fake Covid-19 vaccination certificates for as low as N3, 000.
This is coming against the backdrop of warnings by the executive-director of the NPHCDA, Faisal Shuaib, that those behind the ‘criminal behaviour will be prosecuted’ after investigation.
A civil servant who does not want his name in print for obvious reasons said people are working around the system by paying as low as N3, 000 to get forged Covid-19 vaccination certificates.
He said, “I don’t know the actual person who does it for them. All I know is that they send all the required information like their date of birth, age, sex, occupation and their National Identification Number to the person with amount ranging from 3,000 to 5000 depending on how fast you want it.”