3 min read
18 Feb

BY: Fola Ojo 

“Oh, No; Dad; please don’t take that vaccine”, he said “Why not?”, I asked him “ They’re going to put a chip in your body and change your DNA. You’re not going to be my dad again. Everything about you will change.” “Where did you hear that, son?” “They’re not going to tell you, dad. That’s what they are trying to do to everybody with that vaccine. I’m not taking it.” Who are ‘they’ trying to change my DNA? I wanted to probe my vaccine-phobic 19-year-old son whose brain has now been swamped with social media misinformation. But debating debate people whose minds have been swamped with conspiracy theories on the new scientific discovery that will keep us alive from a novel disease is an effort in otiosity. The wildfire of the deadly coronavirus ran the whole world into a standstill since February last year. No known nation has been able to stand her ground against the ravaging claws of the pandemic. A fleet of conspiracy theories have taken over the airwaves regarding it too. Many people including a horde among Nigerians don’t believe that coronavirus is real. In Nigeria, they believe the noise around it is a fraudulent spin from deep-throated government aficionados who just love to steal public funds at every chance they get, and nothing more than that. Sleek government fellows may truly be taking advantage of the rampage to enrich themselves; but before our eyes, men and women of influence and affluence are dropping dead from the respiratory virus while the poor are quietly dying without a homegoing celebration.

 The protocols of handwashing, social distancing and masks have been the saving grace. Recently, the Pfizer and Mordana vaccines hit the market. And with it came the bugaboo from connoisseurs in conspiracy theories. Some people believe the vaccine will turn people into antennas for 5G wireless technology. Many Church people believe no true Christian needs the vaccine because God made His children perfect. A handful of anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists spin that governments are hiding effective COVID-19 treatments from the public to profit off of the vaccine. 

Some even believe that Microsoft owner Bill Gates has a hand in using it to plant microchips in people. False claims are circulating on everything from the vaccines’ ingredients to its possible side effects. One of the earliest false claims suggested that the vaccines could alter the DNA. I work in the clinical research field. Experts have said there is no truth to the claims that the vaccines can genetically modify humans. We heard that The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines as well as the Moderna vaccine rely on messenger RNA or mRNA, which is a fairly new technology used in vaccines that experts have been working on for years.

 MRNA vaccines help train the immune system to identify the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus and create an immune response. That is a scientific fact. These theories sound outlandish, but they have gained fast and adhesive tractions around the globe. Each time I am questioned if I thought the vaccine is safe, I try to explain to inquiring minds the basic process of clinical trials fashioned to determine the efficacy of any medication including a vaccine. I am not in the position of ascertaining the safety of the vaccine, but we have been told that its safety level is very high. Since the roll-out of the ‘body armour’, there have not been reported swaths of Serious Adverse Events among the subjects (patients). Influential figures like the US President-elect Joe Biden, the CDC virologist, Anthony Fauci, former Presidents Barak Obama, George W Bush, and the US sitting Vice President Mike Pence have all rolled up their sleeves for a shot of the vaccine. But why are many people still sceptical? Trust is the word. It is one of the reasons why the US government may be having an uphill task getting groups like the African-American community and Latinos subscribe to getting the vaccine. An opinion poll recently conducted found that only 42 per cent of Black adults said they would get the vaccine. This is compared with 61 percent of Whites, 63 per cent of Hispanics and 83 per cent of (English-speaking) Asian-Americans who said they would take the vaccine. Black people believe in vaccines.

 They just don’t trust a public health system that has, in too many cases, engaged in grievous harm by experimenting on Black bodies without consent or ignoring the specific needs of Black people. Black people remember the incident where doctors at Johns Hopkins University took cancer cells from a dying patient named Henrietta Lacks without her consent and then used those cells to create what would become a multimillion-dollar line of biological research. They remember the Tuskegee Syphilis Study which is now believed to be the best-known brand of racialised medical malpractice. 

The U.S. Public Health Service sponsored a 40-year experiment where hundreds of Black men with syphilis were given placebos instead of actual medicine or effective care so doctors could document the long-term progression of the disease. The Tuskegee study came to light only when an Associated Press reporter named Jean Heller published a blockbuster exposé on the “experimentation on human guinea pigs.” People remember the Holmesburg Prison Experiment where the doctor who created a popular skin cream called Retin-A conducted a series of experiments, biopsies and painful procedures on inmates without disclosing the dangers. They cannot easily forget J. Marion Sims known as the “father of gynecology” who performed reproductive experiments on enslaved Black women without anesthesia. One of those women, Anarcha Westcott, underwent 30 painful gynaecological surgeries without any form of sedation. Sims later opened a hospital where he conducted his perfected technique on White women, who were of course anaesthetised. 

These and much more are some of the stories that my vaccine-phobic and sceptical 19-year-old son stumbled upon on the social media and in discussions among his friends and comes home barraging me with gnawing conspiracy theories. Although some cocktail of medications like Remdesivir, Regeneron, Azithromycin, Zinc, Vitamin C have been lately proved to be silver bullets against the virus; truth is that we all need the vaccine. I believe it makes more sense to get the vaccine than getting the virus. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeve to get one soon.  

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