Just a few days ago, the Cross River State government began vaccination of frontline health workers after receiving over 50, 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Dr Janet Ekpenyong, Director -General of Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency, CRSPHCDA told CHIEMEKA ADINDU that the agency was able to put in place adequate mechanism to address adverse effects which may arise after vaccination.
Are there specific centers where people can go for the purpose of getting vaccinated?
Before you receive the vaccine, we expect that you will register online. We’ve been sharing the link and even when you have not registered you’re eligible for the vaccine, you visit the nearest primary health care centre from there you have someone there who will help you register online because you just have to register online. It is also online that you will choose the center you wish to be vaccinated. So when once you register that’s when you will be eligible to be given the vaccine, but the e-registration must be done first and we also have people who are trained to be helping people who are having challenges registering with the link.
How do you accommodate rural people who may not have access to android phones or the internet?
That’s what I’m saying, if you are eligible for the vaccination, you will visit any nearest Primary Health Centre because there, we have people who will help you register online because we want to have that database to know the number of people who have actually been vaccinated and make sure that we don’t lose focus or vaccines; we just want to be accountable with whatever we are doing and so that is why we encourage you to visit the primary healthcare centres if you don’t have an android phone and the secondary facility because you will register electronically before you will be vaccinated. Even those in the rural communities, if you are there, and get all the details, go to where there is a network where you can upload those details.
Are you saying that there are those who are not eligible to take the vaccine? And what is the timeframe between when the frontline health workers and others will be receiving the vaccine?
For this first phase, we target that the vaccine will get here by the first quarter of the year so by the second quarter, we hope that the next batch of vaccines will come which will be targeted, like I said, people above 50 years and afterwards, probably the next quarter we will now receive another batch of vaccines into the country. So it’s going to be based on quarterly. We are targeting 70 percent of the population between this year and next year to be vaccinated and that’s 18 years and above and this first phase is for health workers and front liners. We must exhaust all that first, then before we finish that we are targeting 50 years and above. And once we are done with that, before we finish with them, the next set of vaccines would have been ready for other targeted population. So that’s why I say between this year and next year, hopefully we will be able to finish the targeted population which is 18 years and above, 70 percent of the entire population of Nigeria.
We’ve heard that the vaccine is preventive and not curative; could you throw more light on this?
O yes, the AstraZeneca Vaccine actually has 70 percent efficacy. It’s preventive and not curative and I think prevention is always the best. Just like every other immunization or vaccination, it is to prevent and of course not to cure and this is not different. The same way we were able to overcome polio. That’s the same strategy we’re employing with the AstraZeneca vaccine and it’s safe and effective. At least so far, we’ve not had any issues with those taking the vaccine so far. I was just reading a text message from someone, a front liner who we gave the vaccine yesterday and she’s already calling, ‘please can we give to her household?’ That’s to show you that she doesn’t have any adverse effect following immunization. This vaccine is really safe, no fear so far, no side effect so far, it’s just the same effect we usually have when we take immunization; a slight pain and fever and afterwards you’re okay. But if at all we have any adverse effect, we have put in place structures to see how we can manage the situation and ensure that whoever comes down with that is actually taken care of. We have on the cards, the number of disease surveillance and notification officers so that if you have any adverse effect that you think is not normal, you’ll just call and they will pick you up from wherever you are to the nearest facility and if you need secondary care you would be moved immediately.
So what is the implication of it being preventive? Is it that when you take the vaccine you will no longer have COVID?
The good thing about the vaccine just like every other vaccine is that it helps to strengthen and build your immunity against these diseases; even if you actually contracted, the effect of the disease on your body will not be so much. A lot of people come down with COVID and eventually die so what this vaccine will prevent is even if you have it you don’t necessarily have to die, you could actually be asymptomatic but the good thing is that there is 70 percent possibility that you will not come down with COVID, that’s the beauty of the vaccine and even if you come down with COVID, at least the symptoms will be mild, it won’t be as bad as what we know COVID to be and there is also the possibility that you could contract COVID like I said, so you still need to wash your hands regularly, use your face mask and following other preventive protocols to ensure that you do not contract COVID-19 and that’s what we’ve been encouraging our people to do, to try as much as possible to take this vaccine once it’s your turn.
What specific preparations are on ground peradventure there are eventualities after the vaccination?
As I mentioned earlier, on the card we have the numbers of the disease surveillance and notification officer. So if you have any adverse effect, you have to call that number immediately, then you will be taken to any nearest health facility. Like I said, we’re working in conjunction with even the secondary and tertiary health institutions to see that you’re managed immediately and part of what we are making available is that every team that will be vaccinating will be going out with what we call the AEFI Kit, Adverse Effect Polio-Immunization Kit. So, they will be there to provide immediate services if there is any reaction. But if after taking the vaccine and you probably go home and then you realize you’re having some form of reaction, you now call the number and you will be attended to immediately.
It is widely reported that some European countries like Germany, Italy, United States of America, etc have suspended this vaccination. Does that bother you?
Yes, of course. Everybody will be bothered getting such news but so far in Nigeria, we’ve not had such reactions yet and that’s why we’re also being very proactive to ensure that we have our people or our disease surveillance notification officers everywhere just to report any AFI or any reaction following the vaccination. So I know it’s been a lot of news from other countries but we are not going to react based on what is coming from other countries. Within Nigeria so far we’ve not had any serious adverse effect, rather just the common ones we usually have when someone receives immunization or any form of vaccination. But like I said, we’ve put in place all the necessary mechanisms to ensure that we can also tackle it immediately if the need arises.
So what is the drastic thing your agency is going to do in the area of sensitization?
Before now a lot of sensitization is on-going and we’re not going to relent. And about 55 per cent so far have actually said they were going to take the vaccine and I’m also pleased that up till now, people are actually calling to demand for this vaccine and I’ve had to tell them to wait until it’s your turn. We will not relent, we will continue to engage our people and of course that’s why we’ve brought in some strategic leaders as well that are going to be taking this vaccine so that our people will know that it’s totally safe. At least once they see politicians also taking it they will also have that confidence to actually go and take the vaccine. I know very well there’s going to be total acceptance of this vaccine eventually just like other vaccines.