The discourse on COVID-19 vaccines as a possible panacea for the ongoing pandemic has varied progressively from the onset of the pandemic to the discovery of vaccines. The narrative has ranged from the seeming anticipation of a vaccine, probes on its efficacy, queries on its affordability, preservability and sustainability, to its general acceptability by users; where science, religion, culture, and emotions are among the basis influencing many of such interrogations and discussions.
In Ghana, when the president of the Republic announced in January 2021 that the government’s aim is to vaccinate the entire population with an initial target of 20 million people, it was noticeable that the discourse intensified. Detailing further that the government was hopeful that by the end of June 2021, 17.6 million vaccine doses would have been procured for the country, where the earliest vaccine is expected by March 2021, the president inadvertently gave Ghanaians an added scope to express their divergent views on the subject.
In light of this, a few Ghanaian-oriented tweets which were sampled, gave the lead to a thematic analysis on Ghanaians’ views on the vaccine – and admittedly, does not reflect a representative sample of the entire population’s general reasoning and sentiments about the government’s vaccination agenda. In consideration of these views, therefore, the falsities identified therein are debunked while the appropriate information required is supplied, wherever applicable.
A number of Ghanaians have indicated their unwillingness to get vaccinated with a foreign vaccine. A user identified as Dee, for example, has expressed refusal to use a vaccine from a ‘white man with unknown intentions’, for fear of being ‘used as a guinea pig.’
It appears people such as @Dee07 may prefer a locally manufactured vaccine as it has further been suggested that Ghana should source local scientists to conduct research and trials into potent vaccines.
On the other hand, some members of the Ghanaian community have shown their support for the government’s vaccination agenda. Gregory Rockson, CEO of a pharmaceutical company, MPharma, for example, states the need for a rush to vaccinate people in order to prevent more mutations of the virus from happening.
@Rockson2, who detailed this in a thread with some recommendations to the government in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, included that the government should receive some of the AstraZeneca doses being put on hold in South Africa by appointing a chief vaccine negotiator from a private sector with industry connections and focus majorly on two regions in Ghana with the highest percentage of cases for the vaccination strategy to reduce the spread to other regions and appoint a chief vaccine spokesperson from the science community and not one from the political domain.
In his recommendations, Gregory Rockson made some remarkable points that were worth looking into.
Claim 1: @Rockson2 stated that the dominant variant in Ghana is the UK variant, and it is known that the AstraZeneca vaccine works effectively against that variant.
Verification: Gregory Rockson’s claim of the dominant variant in Ghana being the UK variant is true. Evidence of this claim was found in a tweet posted by Prof Gordon Awandare, founder and director of West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) at the University of Ghana.
Prof Awandare stated in January that the Centre’s “January sequencing data shows clearly that B.1.1.7 (first reported in the UK) is now the predominant strain driving local transmission in Ghana.’’
Furthermore, evidence of @Rockson2’s claim of the known effectiveness of AstraZeneca vaccine against the ‘UK variant’ was also found by some trial studies and preliminary findings, which have however not yet been peer reviewed.
Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist and professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia explained that the UK variant did not have an escape mutation unlike other variants, and therefore did not interfere with the immunity and efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
According to the studies reported, a single AstraZeneca vaccine dose is 76% effective for protecting against the virus up to 3 months, and increasing to 82% effectiveness with a second dose after a 12-week interval. Also, the vaccine can reduce the spread of the virus up to 67% after one dose which suggests that those vaccinated are unlikely to infect others.
Claim 2: Again, @Rockson2, in recommending the regional focus of the government’s vaccination strategy to achieve herd immunity stated that the Greater Accra Region and Ashanti Region have over 90% of cases.
Data from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) shows that as at February 8 2021, Greater Accra Region records the highest number of cases being 43,497 and active cases being 3,754 and Ashanti Region records the second highest number of cases being 13,361 and active cases being 1,353, both over a national total cases of 74,347 and total active cases of 7,509.
Therefore, the assertion that Greater Accra Region and Ashanti Region have over 90% of cases is inaccurate, as they record 76% of cases and 68% of active cases respectively, as at February 8, 2021. However, both regions do record the highest number of cases, and in that regard, the recommendation for the vaccination strategy to focus on those regions may still hold.
- Alternate COVID-19 vaccines
Halidu Yakubu’s tweet also suggests the support for the procurement of vaccines. In fact, in his tweet, @YakubuHalidu rather commends the need for the government to import other COVID-19 vaccines such as Sputnik from Russia – a suggestion which is similarly shared, explained and argued for by Dr. Asiedu Sarpong, who is a pharmacist and research fellow at Centre for Democratic Development (CDD)-Ghana.
However, in @YakubuHalidu’s contemplation for this preferred Sputnik vaccine, he claimed that the vaccine being imported by the government is ‘that of Bill Gates’. He further alleges that ‘the Vice President once spoke to Bill Gates for vaccines to be injected on March 21.’
Meanwhile, @YakubuHalidu’s claim of the Vice President speaking to Bill Gates on COVID-19 vaccines cannot be proven beyond what is publicly reported since the only recent publicly known interaction Ghana’s Vice President has had with Bill Gates on vaccines was not COVID-19-related but polio-related in September 2020, whereby at the time there was no known WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine as yet.
Also, the only known vaccine expected to be in the country by March, according to Ghana’s Health Minister designate, is the AstraZeneca vaccine – a vaccine which is licensed to the Serum Institute of India (AZ/SII) and listed under the WHO COVAX Interim Distribution Forecast, of which Ghana is an Advance Market Commitment (AMC) participant. And this COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca was co-invented by the University of Oxford and Vacci-tech. There is evidence, however in a number of reports, that Bill Gates financed the AstraZeneca vaccine including a $750 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to enable the global supply of the vaccine.
- Education on COVID-19 vaccines
Austin Charles, whose contribution also suggested the approval of having vaccines in Ghana, admonishes for vaccine literacy to be intensified. In his tweet, @mr_ablordey gives the reason for the vaccine education to be the existing skepticism on the efficacy of the vaccines in view of its alleged several negative effects.
Similarly, Dr Alexander Dodoo, the Director-General of the Ghana Standards Authority who has appeared in a number of mainstream media interviews discussing the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana, has advised for more community engagement on vaccines to be held to enable Ghanaians understand the uses and limitations of vaccines against COVID-19. He also showed that none of the vaccines is 100% and they vary in their efficacy percentages and doses needed.
“We need to get the public ready not just for the vaccine but to also expect that the protection offered by the vaccine goes with some amount of risk. There will be side effects. And it’s not going to be 100% safe. It never happens. So we need to communicate that there will be a lot of benefits, but there will be an accompanying measurable amount of tolerable risk which the population should be ready for,” Dr. Dodoo said.
Likewise, a virologist at the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR), Dr Augustina Sylvaken, has raised awareness on the expectation of possible side effects from COVID-19 vaccines, just as any other vaccine.
“The reaction of the immune system to foreign elements is different for everyone so some of these things are expected. When the vaccine arrives in Ghana, you’ll realize someone will have no effects after taking the vaccination, some will have slight headaches and I’ve even experienced someone collapse after being vaccinated,” Dr. Sylnaken said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also acknowledged the possibility of experiencing some side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
“COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you from getting COVID-19. You may have some side effects, which are normal signs that your body is building protection. These side effects may affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days,” CDC said
The CDC has listed some possible common side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine as shown below:
The CDC has equally recommended some helpful tips on how to handle such side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine as shown below:
- Order of administering COVID-19 vaccines
It is being revealed that the issue most people have with vaccines in Ghana is not so much of getting vaccinated as it is about unknown issues surrounding the vaccines. In this contribution, for example, Sir Nana Kokote suggests the order of the administration of vaccines, perhaps in order to trust the safety of the vaccines. In his tweet, @kokote_sir states that the government of Ghana should administer the COVID-19 vaccines from the top (presidency) to the bottom (ordinary citizens), as was done for the issuing of the Ghana card.
For all Ghanaians interested in being vaccinated against COVID-19 with the procured vaccines, the Ghana Health Service has assured that the vaccine will be free to the average Ghanaian, thusconfirming that no one is to be charged to be vaccinated.
“Vaccines in Ghana are wholly free – whether it’s COVID, whether it’s measles, they’re not paid for. They are paid for by government. So the average Ghanaian does not pay for it. It’s free,” Dr Asiedu-Bekoe, Director of Public Health at GHS said in a JoyNews interview.
However, some categories of persons will be exempted from being vaccinated, unless otherwise recommended by a doctor, as was listed by the Director-General of Ghana Standards Authority, Dr Alexander Dodoo. They include people with allergies, underlying health conditions, HIV/AIDS, undergoing cancer treatment, children under age 16, pregnant women, and the aged, due to the possible compromise of such persons’ immune systems and in the case of children, their proven protection and inability to pass on the virus.
Evidently, the government of Ghana has put in measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 such as the procurement of vaccines in ensuring that the entire population is vaccinated. Some Ghanaians through the different available media platforms, have expressed their views accordingly with an array of their terms and conditions for vaccination – some of which may apply, some of which may not.