The Covid Vaccine and other stories
I saw him, my friend. He was standing on a chair. Vibing, swaying with the music. This was at a Lagos Nightclub in the great before, when we danced with abandon, with freedom, without the fear of fatal airborne contagion. He looked over at me and smiled as his eyes lit with the glimmer of recognition. I smiled. He smiled back. Our eyes locked.
I tried to hold the stare, the meeting of our gazes, but I couldn’t. My eyes strayed downwards, looking for his left arm. It was tucked by his side, hidden from plain view, a habit I imagine he formed when he was quite young. It was exactly as I remembered it, miniature, shrunken, crippled. I lifted my head and met his gaze once more. I was embarrassed. I shouldn’t have done it. I couldn’t help it.
His smile had vanished. His warmth had turned to stone. In his eyes, there was defiance, fear, pain. There was entreaty, a plea, for my kindness, for my understanding. At least that’s what I thought I saw. I smiled again, bigger this time, revealing all my 29 teeth. I forced the sympathy I felt into it. I wanted him to know that I saw his disability, and I thought he was perfect still. A heavy thing for a smile to bear. He smiled back, and waved a bottle of Champagne in my direction. There was gratitude in the motion.
I remember my mind straying in that moment. I thought of my parents. I was happy, grateful. I would never have to suffer as my friend had, as he is, as he will. I would never have to seek kindness from anyone in that way, because my parents had made sure I was vaccinated against polio before the disease could find me.
He is why I cannot be cavalier about vaccines. I see how the world looks at him. I know of the pain he feels, I know of the pain his family feels. I know how cruel people have been, how cruel they are, how cruel they will be. He is why I see vaccines as a bit of a Messiah against future suffering. So when Nigeria received over 500,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca Covid vaccine, I was happy. I was excited. I was resolved to get it at the earliest opportunity, come hell or high water, rock or hard place.
Nigeria received 3.9 million doses of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca Covid 19 vaccine on the 2nd of March, at ten minutes past 11am. The country had a plan for the vaccines. It began with the roll out of an electronic registration platform. Those who registered on the platform would be given dates in accordance to how vulnerable and how exposed people were to the virus. The national vaccination plan was split into 4 phases.
Phase 1: Frontline health workers, supporting staff and strategic leaders.
Phase 2: The elderly - First those above 60, then those above 50.
Phase 3: People between 18 and 49 with co-morbidities like hypertension, diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, liver or kidney disease.
Phase 4: The rest of the adult population.
It is one thing to make plans. It is quite another thing to see them through. When we make plans but fail to set up the necessary infrastructure to see them through, they fail to be plans at all. They become dreams. Nigeria’s Covid Vaccine plan was a dream.
The electronic registration platform the country built specifically to deal with the dissemination of the vaccines failed early and with that went the whole plan. The four phases developed by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, crumbled into one massive free for all. Confusion and corruption and chaos, Nigeria’s most consistent devils came out to play. There are vaccines available, but the hoops you have to jump through differ from centre to centre. At some, all you need do is turn up incredibly early, and at others, things are not so straight forward. As always, with enough money, or the right connections, anything is possible.
I spoke to two people who were vaccinated in Lagos. These are their stories.
Kayode, Lawyer, 30 years old.
How did you get through the pandemic?
Exercise, passion hobbies like collecting art, and socialising with a small group of friends and family
How did you feel about the vaccine when it was announced?
I was excited. I still am. The time in which it was developed is unprecedented. I hope many / most Nigerians get vaccinated in record time.
Did you have any concerns about the vaccine, or about taking the vaccine in Nigeria?
Not at all. Nigeria's historical success in vaccine distribution is encouraging.
Why did you decide to get the vaccine?
I have been a "desperate advocate" of the vaccine. I did not need to be convinced.
What do you mean when you say you were a desperate advocate?
I have always known that I would take it when it became available, and I urged friends to do the same. My view is that the risk of dying from not taking the vaccine is higher than dying from taking it.
So you're not that concerned about the reports of blood clots from the Astra Zeneca?
Not at all. I am comfortable with the statistics that I have seen.
What was the registration process like?
My superstar assistant Damilola first told me about the NPHCDA Portal. He registered my wife and I. We eventually got re-registered at the Centre on our vaccination day, as we chose to get vaccinated at a different Centre from where we initially registered
And the jab... how did that go?
It was the least painful needle I have ever felt
It's been a couple of hours since you took it, how are you feeling?
I'm feeling great. I have had one meeting and one call thereafter.
What's the first thing you're looking forward to doing after you've completed your doses?
I honestly look forward to the world going back as close to what we knew as normal, as possible.
Sir Black Pinstripes (Pseudonym), 34 years old, Self Titled Marketing Guru and Avid Cyclist.
Hey… you took the vaccine the other day, tell me about it?
So… I just got in from a long distance cycle (you know I cycle to keep the love handles at bay) and babe is like let’s get the vaccine.
I’m like “is this one mad?!” Anyways she tells me that they’re administering the jab in Lekki. Still, my legs are a bit wobbly about the prospect. Once again, I’m like, “is this babe alright?”
Anyway, with my status as a boyfriend at risk, I obliged.
That morning, I stuffed my face with a hearty breakfast (it may or may not have been Amala and Ewedu) and I began the journey to the primary health care center. A friend of mine lives just across the street from the centre so I parked there and walked down.
Some friends of ours were there earlier and they got numbers for us. I was quite lucky that they managed this. Numbers show your position on the queue. I got there at 10:30am but I managed to secure the 67th position on the queue, then the wait began.
The online registration system would have made things faster but it wasn’t working. In true Nigerian fashion, the site was down. And they were giving priority to senior citizens and health care workers (as they should) but this stretched waiting times further. I was there from say 10:30am to about 2:30pm.
I waited at my mate’s house and I came back when it was almost my turn.
The registration process was smooth and the jab was clean. It’s the Astra Zeneca one. After you get it they give a card with the date of your booster. Has to be the same type Oh!
Also… all the information around your vaccine is saved on the database so when you’re traveling they can pull it up at immigration or what not.
There were some side effects. I can still feel the soreness at the jab area and after I took it, I was straight up knocked out. I was so tired. I slept like a fish as soon as I got back home. And then at night, I felt like I had malaria, apparently that’s a side-effect but it varies from person to person.
Hopefully I'll get mine soon.