Not planned. I was saying goodbye to my neighbor and friend on Thursday night when I was called by one of the employees of the association of residents of our property.
He was in shorts and shirts, his right hand clutching his left shoulder. “I just got vaccinated,” he said. “Do you want me to introduce you to your name tomorrow?”
After what I’ve seen in the last year – COVID-19-related deaths first became statistics and then statistics became people, and people who had faces and faces who became friends and relatives – the news of the vaccine’s discovery was a great relief .
But vaccines, like many good things, are produced abroad, while rumors and myths about them are produced locally.
Nigeria expected a shipment of about five million doses – one for every 40 citizens. With one of the highest infection and death rates in Africa at the height of the pandemic, no one was sure how five million doses could work.
One evening, when I started this topic at home, with the enthusiasm of someone who had just discovered a magic formula, I noticed the pregnant expression on my wife’s face. She suggested I ask the kids what they think of vaccines before deciding whether to make an injection when they become available.
That made sense. Since the youngest of them is 21, I totally expected a strong conversation. But what I got on that conference call from the two of them, obviously speaking on behalf of other family members, was more than robust: it was a premeditated, completely rebellious vaccine.
A chemical engineer, often a spokesman, asked me what I knew about vaccines that were already on the market. It was in January. Although a few privileged people either went to Dubai to get it, or, like the governor’s wife Ebela Obiano, chased it all the way to Houston, Texas, for design sessions, most of us just followed the news.
What do I know about vaccines? I know that they do not offer 100% protection against coronavirus infection and that they were developed and applied at a historically record rate. Initial data also suggest that with good hygiene and social protocols, vaccination could reduce the spread of the virus.
My interlocutor laughed. While acknowledging that science has done a great job at ejecting the vaccine in record time, she said safety and effectiveness may be compromised on the altar of purposefulness and despair.
She said she was not sure that enough samples had been taken or that time had been given to analyze outcomes from different demographic categories of the population before the vaccine was introduced. It has plunged into a global vaccine policy between American and European pharmaceutical giants, and one between the West and China. Caution, Dad.
And then she asked her mother all the questions: is there any evidence so far that one particular vaccination could prevent different strains from popping up at the time, or even if it does, where is the data that vaccination could prevent the risk of re-infection? Did I follow what was happening in South Africa, for example?
She summed it up by saying that for her the risk of younger, not obviously risky people being vaccinated and being exposed to potential negative side effects outweighed any benefit from vaccination whose full consequences were only arising.
I did not agree. Of course, while I acknowledged that more needed to be learned about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, my point was that in balance it was better to risk staying alive with vaccination than to risk infection, long-term damage, and perhaps death by abstaining based on unfounded fears. And I do not believe that the immunity of the herd is superior to personal responsibility.
After age 56, health vulnerabilities and underlying conditions tend to increase. But dealing with your mortality after that time brings with it liberation from the fear of death. So what’s the point of a sting anyway?
It is strange, but during the conversation, my wife, an otherwise engaged, strong-willed woman, was silent. We’re both over 50. After months of swallowing more than enough vitamins to float pharmacists, dive into cooking hot local herbs, and consuming all imaginable spices, I thought this vaccination was our best chance to leave this damn thing behind once and for all; that we will be champions in vaccination.
Moreover, in the middle of the second wave, my son was scared of an infection that left him out of sight for days and invited me to call everyone I knew for advice! Well, why won’t the family take the opportunity to get vaccinated with both hands?
The vaccine finally arrived in Nigeria in March, but the news did not diminish my isolation. A friend shared with me a WhatsApp message about a tabular comparison of safety, efficacy and unit prices of four currently available vaccines – AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Of these four, Pfizer was rated the most effective with 95 percent test efficiency and fewest side effects. With $ 20 per bottle, it is also the second most expensive. Modern was 94 percent, more expensive, and had almost the same side effects as Pfizer; while Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca achieved 66.9 or 62 percent efficacy with longer lists of side effects.
Others may think of AstraZeneca as the world’s majority redemption bottle, and Nigeria may be congratulated for not lagging too far behind imports of limited quantities, but the fact that AstraZeneca is at the bottom of the pile – cheapest of all and worst for side effects – seemed to stand out, if not and confirms, my daughter’s worst suspicions.
My family, who had already rebelled against vaccination, was barely in the mood for AstraZeneca. Their suspicions were compounded by anxiety over anything that could go wrong in the supply chain from shipments abroad, through many potentially winding paths, to the point of stabbing. How do you even know what you are getting and whether – or when – the next dose will come?
These pictures flooded my mind on Thursday when a neighbor offered to enroll me for AstraZeneca on the property. If I had been given the opportunity to commit suicide, I would not have felt more conflicted.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” My neighbor asked. “Aren’t you interested?” The medical team will be on the property again by 8 a.m. Friday. Give me both your name and your wife’s name. “
I burst out of confusion. “Leave my wife outside,” I said. “Put my name down. I’ll come at eight in the morning to film. “
That night, my wife called another family conference. She called the children, one by one, to let them know that I had decided to get the vaccine. The chemical engineer was funny to her, even naughty, at best. She asked me if I had written my will and who my closest relative was. She also asked if I had left my bank details and some other valuables at hand.
As for herself, she said, although there was a little more data on vaccines today than was available in January, the risk of the unknown remains worrying.
We laughed and talked again, and I went to bed wondering, what if she’s right? Too bad, too late. I decided. I’ll get the vaccine.
I appeared at the site of the initial vaccination on the estate as Number 200 on the list. I learned that over 80 people had been vaccinated the day before and that there had been no negative reports. Today, people of different age groups were on hold – a good number of them aged 60 and over. With 199 people in front of me, whatever happened, I was in good company.
The scene was later changed, but I got stuck with the train and after counting came to 37. After three hours of waiting, I took a hit and went home.
From the moment I entered, my wife’s eyes were fixed on me. She asked if I felt anything, and I said no, which is true. She thought I should use analgesics right away, but I tossed her suggestion aside. My kids called and took turns to pepper me and tease me with questions about how I was feeling. I told them I didn’t feel anything, which is true again.
I’ve heard stories of nausea, dizziness, aches, or pain after vaccination, but I haven’t experienced any of it.
I went to bed and slept like a log. I woke up hearty and hearty. It’s been a week since then, and I don’t grow horns. Three days after I shot, when my wife was sure I was alive, she too stood in line for her shot!
Then, after she took it, I reminded her that the book says the second shot should come 15 to 22 days after the first shot, but our next meeting is in June, almost three months after our first shot! I don’t live anxiously, especially since I’m in even better company now than when I stood in line for a dose.
The guinea pig is finally in excellent company. Still, it was not planned.
Ishiekwene is the editor-in-chief of LEADERSHIP