An internal memo by one of the banks operating in Nigeria, asking its staff to ensure they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or be barred from entering the bank’s premises, has raised eyebrows and caused consternation among staff of other corporate organisations that such rule may be replicated by other companies.
The second round of COVID-19 vaccinations commenced on 30th August in Lagos and several other Nigerian states, with some governors trying to find solutions to the poor response of their citizens to receive the vaccine.
In Lagos, the government established 88 centres for the distribution of the newly arrived Astra-Zeneca vaccines, amidst existing challenges of reluctance or fear by the citizens to be vaccinated.
On eligibility, the Lagos State Government had said that only citizens who had taken the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine and are due for the second dose will be attended to.
With the threats by employers, the first question that has arisen is how possible will it be for workers to be vaccinated if they had not taken the first dose in the previous exercise. It does look, therefore that such employers have not thought through their threats to staff who may not have been qualified with regards to their age and the type of jobs they perform, during the first vaccination period.
It is true that many Nigerians have insisted they would not be vaccinated, in spite of Government’s assurances that the vaccines are safe and effective. The government states that those who get vaccinated are not only protecting themselves but also their loved ones and other people they relate with.
Many of the governments decided introduce regulations meant to ensure compliance by citizens. For instance, Edo imposed restriction on mass gatherings, when the governor flagged off the second phase vaccination, with threats that only those with proof of one dose of vaccination would be allowed to access large gatherings. Those without proof of vaccination were not to be allowed access to public places. Governor Godwin Obaseki went further to say that people may not be allowed to worship in churches and mosques without showing proof of their vaccination cards at the gates. Similarly, people will not be allowed to event centres, receptions or parties, without showing proof of their vaccination cards.
“People will not be allowed to access banking services from the middle of September 2021, if they are not vaccinated. We have made adequate arrangements with security agencies to prevent anybody who doesn’t have vaccination cards to access any of these places. We are doing this to protect our citizens and all these measures will remain until the pandemic passes away,” the governor noted.
These rules attracted immediate protests led by civil society groups in Benin City and a court case was instituted against the government, with the instigators stressing the unconstitutionality of the regulations.
But Edo State was not alone. Ondo State Government also made COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for residents and it gave a two-week ultimatum for all eligible adults to take the jabs, with the warning that evidence of vaccination would be needed to access churches, mosques, hospitals and other public places, including government offices.
This was followed by a notice from the Federal Government that COVID-19 vaccination would now be compulsory for pilgrims to the holy cities of Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem.
It urged adherents of both Islam and Christianity to get vaccinated to avoid any delay or cancellation in the future, as some countries have made vaccination a requirement to gain access to their countries.
Many citizens have tried to understand the need for forceful vaccination as being pursued by the government in view of the increase in infection and death rates occasioned by the Delta variant of COVID-19. As at August 30, 2021, Nigeria had only vaccinated 2,897,201 and 1,430,379 eligible persons with 1st and 2nd doses respectively, across the 36 States and Federal Capital Territory. This figure, they feel, is not encouraging in a population of over 200 million.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, gave further credence to the direction the country was going in enforcing vaccination when he said on September 1 in Abuja on Thursday during a meeting of the Health Commissioners Forum with federal Ministries,
Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and health partners, that the Nigerian government planned to make vaccination mandatory for all federal civil servants.
Mr. Mustapha, who is also the chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC), on COVID-19 said vaccination will be compulsory for federal civil servants once vaccines are available for everyone. His announcement at least had a semblance of meaning to it, because it recognised that Nigeria did not have access to enough vaccines to go round so the rule cannot be implemented until ‘vaccines are available for everyone’.
He recognised that the country did not have sufficient vaccines at the moment and so will not institute the mandatory vaccination immediately.
His position is at variance with those of the states and the corporate organisations that are already issuing mandatory vaccination rules, as if there are enough vaccines.
To pursue its agenda of full vaccination, the various governments at federal and State levels therefore need to work harder to procure the vaccines. Nigeria and other African countries are depending on donor countries and agencies for vaccines and it is very clear that this will not work in the long run because those donors are also striving to ensure full vaccination in their countries and that is what they will work to first achieve.
The United States which is ahead of other countries in achieving vaccination figures and have even been donating to other countries can afford to implement rules of compulsory vaccination among its citizens and that is what President Joe Biden has done, beginning with Federal Civil Servants.
Most other countries, in recognition of the sharp upturn in infections due to the Delta variant and a slowdown in vaccinations pushed for mandatory shots for health workers and other high-risk groups and they had to go through several ways to implement their regulations, including ensuring that there is a legal basis and rule of law is followed, so as not to get bogged down by litigations.
For instance, Australia decided in late June to make vaccinations mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels. It also made vaccinations obligatory for athletes to Tokyo Paralympic Games because unvaccinated members on the team could pose a health risk.
In the UK, the current policy is against any form of coercion, but the government says it will be mandatory for care home workers in England to have vaccinations from October. In addition, nightclubs and other venues with large crowds will require patrons to present proof of full vaccination from the end of September.
In Canada, the government started from August 13th to ask all federal public servants and many other workers to be vaccinated. The vaccine mandate also includes air, train and cruise ship travelers.
From 15th August, unvaccinated public servants in Fiji were forced to go on leave, and such public servants who remain unvaccinated by November will be dismissed.
The case of France is not different. Vaccinations are mandatory for health workers and such workers require a bolstered health pass in many social venues. The government will also fine businesses that do not check that their clients have a health pass.
In Brazil, the Supreme Court has already ruled that it is legal for the government to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory, while specifying citizens cannot be physically forced to have the vaccine. However, certain restrictions of the rights of vaccine refusers are envisaged, such as being disallowed a state benefit or refused school enrolment, denial of access to public transportation and restaurants.
Other countries like Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malta, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka and others have set mandatory rules governing vaccination, with fines in many cases. However, almost all these countries are firstly making vaccination compulsory among the citizens they have direct control over, like public servants and health-care workers. It’s only in Brazil that the Supreme Court had had to come in to determine the legality or legitimacy of the regulation. Even the European countries are more likely to ensure that whatever threats they make are in compliance with the European Human Rights Convention and they will ensure that new legislation is in place before blanket imposition, even if the vaccines are considered the only and last hope for citizens.
The governments in Nigeria should therefore ensure that in their own case, the call for mandatory vaccination is placed side-by-side with existing conventions on human and people’s rights to ensure that implementing it will not overly be bogged down, while care is also taken that mandatory vaccination does not interfere with personal integrity, but it must be made clear that it is necessary to safeguard public health.
Since some civil society groups have pledged to test the Nigerian ‘forceful vaccination cases’ as announced by the governors in court, we hope such groups will take all relevant factors in context so that the test in court does not place burdens and risk on those hesitant about vaccination, while the majority of the population will not be put at risk because of those who are reluctant to be vaccinated, as vaccine hesitancy can jeopardize the population’s immunity to COVID-19.
IMAGE CREDIT: Science News