How false vaccination rumour caused panic across Nigeria

File photo of a female health official tries to drop a polio vaccine into the mouth of a child at Kaiama town, 16 May 2005 in Bayelsa State.
File photo of a female health official tries to drop a polio vaccine into the mouth of a child at Kaiama town, 16 May 2005 in Bayelsa State. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Hundred of parents on Monday rushed to withdraw their children from public primary schools in Damaturu, Yobe State, following a rumour that an unusual injection was being administered on school children.

According to the rumour, a non-governmental organisation was administering the injection on the heads of male and navel of female pupils in public primary schools in the town.

The resulting panic forced schools in the Yobe State capital, Damaturu, to shut down.

However, the state government refuted the rumour and the schools resumed the following day.

Bello Kawuwa, Yobe Commissioner for Health, said at a press briefing that things calmed down after parents were persuaded that the rumour was unfounded.

“There was no such incident in any location in Damaturu or any other part of the state.

“There is no non-governmental organisation in charge of vaccination; it is the state Primary Health Care Management Agency that is the sole custodian of vaccination,” he said to reassure the public on the development.

However, the panic was not peculiar to Yobe State. Two days later on Wednesday, a similar rumour in Anambra state led anxious parents to withdraw their wards and disrupt school activities.

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The rumour in Anambra claimed that some students died after being forcefully injected with a vaccine by Nigerian Army personnel.The rumour spread to neighbouring states in the South-east of Nigeria and created panic across the region.

It also reached the South-south region such that the Bayelsa State Government on Friday had to announce a ban on all forms of medical outreach programme in public and private schools throughout the state to calm anxious parents.

The decision, according to the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, at a joint press briefing with his Health Commissioner, Ebitimitula Etebu, was sequel to the scare of a purported injection being given to students against the viral ‘monkeypox’ disease.

He said the government would monitor the situation and ensure strict compliance with the ban, while urging the management of schools to closely monitor visitors.

It later emerged that the cause of the panic in the various regions was the recent outbreak of Monkeypox virus in Bayelsa state capital.

About two weeks ago, the first index case of the rare viral zoonotic disease was reported at Agbura, a rural settlement near Yenagoa.

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the number of suspected cases in Bayelsa later reached 13. Three suspected cases were later reported in Rivers State. Samples from the suspected victims were later sent to the World Health Organisation, WHO laboratory in Dakar, Senegal for testing.

The national coordinator, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said that results of the laboratory tests would be out on Friday.

NCDC said in Abuja that 31 suspected cases of the monkeypox virus had been recorded in seven states.

They include Bayelsa, Rivers, Ekiti, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Ogun and Cross River states.

Meanwhile, the monkeypox virus have no vaccination and nobody have been able to trace the source of the rumour.

However, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, who are in charge of vaccination in Nigeria, has stated clearly, that there is no such vaccination that is harmful to any child in Nigeria.

Speaking at a press briefing in Abuja on Friday, the Director for disease control and immunization, NPHCDA, Dorothy Iwodo said that the widespread rumor of vaccination against monkeypox is false, malicious, unpatriotic, and misleading the public.

She said that the federal government was concerned about the wellbeing of Nigerians, most importantly children and have their best interest at heart.

She said: “Attention of the Federal Government has just been drawn to rumors circulating in parts of the South East concerning vaccination perceived to be harmful to children.

“The Federal Government wishes to state clearly that there is no such vaccination in any part of the country that is harmful to any child in Nigeria.

“Most importantly, the Federal Government wishes to re-assure all parents, guardians and care-givers of globally confirmed safety, potency and effectiveness of all antigens in the National Immunization Schedule against vaccines preventable diseases in the country and the vaccination is free in all public health institutions,” she said.

She added that the annual budgetary allocation, release and cash-backing of huge resources for the provision of safe and potent vaccines was a practical manifestation of government’s commitment to the safety, growth and survival of Nigerian children.

While commending major development partners for their support and commitment on immunization, Mrs. Iwodo urged those peddling the “unpatriotic, malicious and misleading information” to desist from inglorious acts and turn a new leaf in support of their country and fellow countrymen and women.

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