The Nigerian Medical Association has said the recent travel ban on Nigeria by the United Kingdom and Canada in the wake of the outbreak of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 shows that many Nigerians are not taking vaccination against the disease seriously.
The NMA said the situation would not only affect Nigeria’s desire to achieve herd immunity but would also further endanger frontline workers in the country.
As part of measures to reduce further spread of the disease, the Federal Government strengthened the enforcement of compulsory COVID-19 vaccination by barring unvaccinated persons from government buildings at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja, seven days after the expiration of the December 1 deadline for all civil servants to get vaccinated.
The Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, had in October said civil servants without proof of vaccination and negative coronavirus tests would not be granted access to their offices as from December 1, 2021.
Similarly, the Lagos State Government released new COVID-19 guidelines for social events and gatherings in the festive season, directing attendees of social gatherings and events to show proof of vaccination while organisers of such events in the state must be duly registered to obtain an event safety clearance from the Lagos State Safety Commission.
However, the President of the NMA, Prof Innocent Ujah, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, said Nigerians should accept the fact that the vaccine was preventive and tended to build immunity to prevent a further spread of the deadly disease.
“We have to face the reality squarely. You will recall that Nigeria has just been banned by the UK for travel. That is a pointer that they (UK) think we are not doing enough but it is just to show that Nigerians are not taking the issue of COVID seriously.
“Now, the vaccines are available but our people are resisting taking the vaccines. Previously, we said the government had not been able to provide sufficient vaccines for people to use. Now, they are providing the vaccines but people are refusing to take them. It (vaccination) shouldn’t be something that should be forced but it has to be enforced because it is a policy.
“You will recall that the issue of COVID and this protection is predicated on two aspects; to protect oneself as an individual and to protect the public as a public health measure. We should do everything to reduce the number of cases and the likelihood of transmission. The NMA will support anything that will improve the health of Nigerians,” Ujah added.
Asked whether the Federal Government should consider imposing a travel ban to reduce the spread of the new variant, the NMA president said, “If we act as if it is retaliation, that’s not good but the Federal Government of Nigeria owes it a duty to protect its citizens.
“So, if it is in the consideration of the Nigerian government to protect its citizens, they should do everything to protect the citizens. But let it not be seen as retaliatory.
“If it is in the view of the government of Nigeria that people coming from a particular part of the world are at an increased risk of spreading the disease, it has the right to decide what is best for its people. Just as the United Kingdom said its people should be protected, so also should Nigerians be protected.”
He also said a less vaccinated population would have a disastrous effect on Nigerians campaign against the pandemic.