Two Nigerian states try out COVID vaccine passes

Health passes or vaccine passports, required for entry to places like restaurants, gyms and cinemas, are already in place in some European countries though they have triggered protests in France, Greece and Italy as unfair to the unvaccinated.

FILE: Introducing similar measures in Nigeria will be complicated in a country that has received less than 10 million vaccines for a population of more than 210 million people. Picture: AFP

LAGOS - Two southern Nigerian states are trying to introduce COVID-19 vaccine passes for access to public places and gatherings, in a bid to increase vaccination rates in Africa's most-populous nation.

Health passes or vaccine passports, required for entry to places like restaurants, gyms and cinemas, are already in place in some European countries though they have triggered protests in France, Greece and Italy as unfair to the unvaccinated.

Introducing similar measures in Nigeria will be complicated in a country that has received less than 10 million vaccines for a population of more than 210 million people.

Southern Nigeria Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki last week gave residents up to the second week of September to get a vaccine or risk being barred from some places, including banks, receptions, churches and mosques.

"We have made adequate arrangements with security agencies to prevent anybody who doesn’t have vaccination cards from accessing any of these places," Obaseki said.

Nigerians have so far been hesitant about taking the vaccine.

As of Monday, only 2.8 million people had received a first dose, according to the agency in charge of the roll-out, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency.

"We would like to encourage governors to continue to provide leadership in the mobilisation of citizens to prioritise the acceptance of COVID-19 vaccine," NPHCDA director Faisal Shuaib said.

"We are particularly enthused by the example shown by the Governor of Edo State," he added.

PROTEST

But following the governor's announcement, a group of peaceful protesters took to the streets on Monday in Benin City, the state capital.

Holding banners and chanting anti-vaccination slogans, the demonstrators said the government had no right to enforce a vaccine pass, because taking the shot was voluntary.

Nigeria has reported 191,805 infections and 2,455 deaths since February last year, but the real figures are believed to be higher, in part because of low testing rates.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control said in July that it had detected the Delta variant, and infection rates have since risen.

To justify the proposed vaccination pass, authorities in Edo said that all of those who recently died from the virus in the state and 96% of those infected were unvaccinated.

Another state in southern Nigeria, Ondo, has also given residents two weeks to take the shots.

"Evidence of vaccination will be the condition to access public places, churches, mosques," information commissioner Donald Ojogo told local media.

Nigerian authorities said it plans to vaccinate just over 110 million people over the next two years.

But encouraging an increase in vaccinations is a major challenge when access to jabs is limited, the director of Nigeria's Centre for Disease Control Chikwe Ihekweazu told AFP in April.

Experts worry that if wealthier countries begin requiring booster shots for fully-vaccinated people, it could slow shipments of urgently needed doses to developing nations.

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