What started as an outbreak in distant Wuhan, China, is now what the average Nigerian is very familiar with – the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) disease. It would be strange to meet anyone who has never heard about COVID-19. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus disease as a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020, and since then, country leaders have striven to prevent the entry of the virus into their countries and/or its spread within their borders. As of May 2021, 160 million cases and 3.3 million deaths have been confirmed across 224 countries, with Nigeria reporting over 165,000 confirmed cases and over 2000 confirmed deaths, based on the WHO COVID-19 dashboard.
As the world races to end the pandemic by all means, many vaccine candidates have been developed by pharmaceutical companies. Some are in different phases of tests while some have been approved and are already being administered in the United States, China, Russia, and most of Europe. The Nigerian government has also received some doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and commenced vaccinating its citizens on March 5th 2021, prioritizing health workers, frontline non-health workers and strategic leaders in this first phase.
However, there are many things that the world still does not agree on regarding the pandemic, including the existence or the ‘innocence’ of the virus. Some people believe the pandemic is a hoax while some believe it was created to reduce the world population. Another popular belief links the spread of the virus to the installation of telecommunication masts for the 5G network. These perceptions have affected people’s attitude to the virus and to the infection prevention and control measures recommended by health authorities including the wearing of face masks in the public, ensuring social distancing of at least 2 meters, constant washing of hands, and administration of the recently developed vaccines against the virus.
While the public might be paranoid about the pandemic and propagate numerous conspiracy theories, there is a set of people that we should expect would have the right information by virtue of their profession – the health workers. They are the ones we all look up to for accurate information about any disease. But are health workers immune to the conspiracies that fly around? What do health workers really believe about the pandemic? Are they taking the vaccine?
A 2021 systematic review of vaccine acceptance rates across 33 countries places the highest rate (78.1%) among healthcare workers in Israel and the lowest rate (27.7%) among healthcare workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the United states, a vaccine acceptance study amongst frontline health care workers reported low acceptance, with the majority of health care workers choosing to wait to review more data before making a decision.
Although in Nigeria, there is no reported data on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rates amongst health care workers, a population-based cross-sectional study on vaccine hesitancy reported that only half of the general population are willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine. It is not clear yet if this has implications for the vaccine acceptance amongst health care workers. Furthermore, a review of reports on vaccine hesitancy amongst health care workers across past mass vaccination programs revealed that only 30% of doctors believed in the quality of the vaccine for routine immunization, and 84% of the doctors had a child or a relative with a child who had missed routine immunization (a 2020 study in Kebbi state). Similarly in a 1997 survey in Oyo state, about 80% of doctors had not been previously vaccinated for Hepatitis B. Contrary to the above figures however, during the swine flu pandemic in 2009 caused by the influenza virus (H1N1), a high proportion of doctors (94.9%) and nurses (87.0%) reported a willingness to receive the vaccine.
Given the implications of low healthcare worker vaccine acceptance rates on the success of dispelling myths and misconceptions about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and even the existence of the virus, it would be valuable to understand the acceptance rates amongst Nigerian health workers and design appropriate strategies to address low rates if they exist.
Sydani is conducting a cross-sectional study of COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rates amongst health care workers across primary health facilities to understand the challenges underlying low acceptance (if any) and provide thought leadership to the relevant authorities to address them.
What do you think? Are Nigerian health care workers taking the vaccine? Are you a health care worker? Have you taken the vaccine? If yes, what motivated you to take it? If no, why haven’t you taken it? Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments section below.
If you would like to receive the results of the study, please drop your email address in the comments section and follow us on Twitter @SydaniGroup and on LinkedIn.
 NPHCDA’s National COVID-19 Deployment And Vaccination Plan, Nigeria