Coronavirus

  • Challenges Nigerian media organisations face in covering the pandemic and resultant disinformation

    It has been about a year and half since the first case of COVID-19 was announced. On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 “can be characterised as a pandemic”. At the time, WHO said there were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people were known to have lost their lives to the virus. 

    This unfortunate situation, like most pestilences that occurred throughout history, struck with new demands, not just for scientists who were trying hard to understand  the nature of the virus and provide solutions but for almost everyone on the planet. The pandemic commanded urgent attention that gave no room for nonchalance.  

    However, with all the challenges encountered due to COVID-19,  a great amount of knowledge around the virus has been uncovered compared to when it first emerged;  its clinical progression, the at-risk demographics, its spread, mitigations, the discovery of vaccines and even its dispensation were knowledge far imagine at the early times of the pandemic. 

    The novel COVID-19 Pandemic: A journalistic game-changer

    Subsequently, the regular barrage of new information, the mutation around the virus, rising number of cases, and the whole drama around the pandemic became overwhelming to keep up with. Especially for journalists around the world, who many depend on for reports on something they (journalists) barely know much about. 

    Richaldo Hariandja, freelance writer and editor, Indonesia, described the dilemma Journalist and News organisation had to go through when the virus first emerged:

    “A news piece you read one day could be entirely out-of-date by the next morning, and this has meant there have been many questions from the public surrounding the outbreak and the virus. This reality means more work for news organisations; high expectations on journalists and new demands from the public for journalists to meet up with, who are themselves, affected by the plague the pandemic has brought with it.” 

    Yet in a webinar hosted by representatives from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Geneva, Switzerland), BBC Media Action (London, UK), Internews (CA, USA) and the WHO it was concluded that journalists and media organizations should do their utmost to keep up to date with the outbreak using reliable information from respective health departments and the WHO. This reality meant that Journalists would do both fact- and reality-check of all COVID-19 related information in order to remain a trusted source.

    This development ushered a new dawn for journalists and news organizations to join a war they are least prepared for, yet are dependent upon to bring in victory.  Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, the Director-General, World health Organization puts it well:

    “Although the numbers are of interest to the public, it’s also important to communicate the story behind the numbers, what countries are doing to respond to the disease and what individuals can do too, ensuring stories have practical and actionable information. These, amongst other things, media organizations will contribute to the fight against the pandemic.”

    As expected, the pandemic came with serious changes for media operations in Nigeria; working from home was a conscious choice most media organisations had to take to protect their journalists from the pandemic. For others, the decision was not in their confines, because of the lockdown, curfews and reduced freedom of movement. However, in order to do and also keep their jobs, some journalists still had to go out to cover, report and encounter first hand what they know very little about. 

    Abba Adamu, a multimedia Journalist with Daily Trusts Nigeria, outline his early challenge with covering the pandemic:

    “In the initial days, one dilemma was how safe was it for us or for the communities for [journalists] to engage in on-the-ground reportage. Reporters also struggled in the field with transportation and PPE kits. Another challenge was working on data stories around COVID-19. It was difficult to go about doing in-depth analysis without adequate training. I did a few courses online to get a grip around the issues. However, formal training was missing. Newspaper journalist.” 

    Hannah Storm, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network also pointed out during the earlier stages of the pandemic: “News organisations had to reinvent decades of working practices in day”. Nonetheless, these changes were not without its toll on the general media operations. 

    In the second quarter of 2020,  the BBC wrote about how “COVID-19 is ravaging India’s newsrooms”, citing the example of a Mumbai news network where 15 staff out of 120 had tested positive for the virus. Other reports suggested 35 journalists were infected in Chennai, and 19 employees of the Punjab Kesari media group in the city of Ludhiana. This report highlights the risk journalists confront in their work covering the pandemic and the little media houses can do to protect themselves. 

    COVID-19 Mis/Disinformation: a War on two fronts for media organizations  

    Not just the novelty and the health threats journalists have had to endure, COVID-19, brought with it an unprecedented era of information disorder. From conspiracy theories regarding the origin of the coronavirus to several unfounded and unverified myths regarding treatment options and preventive practices. 

    The world witnessed an enormous flood of misinformation, making it impossible for many to understand what is real and what is not. This situation further expanded the horizon of the war against the virus for the journalists, forcing them to fight on two fronts; as traditional journalists and at the same time fact checkers. 

    Even more complicated, was the fact that this information disorder was being spread by people across various demographics, from world leaders, to religious leaders, traditional leaders, key government functionaries, and  private citizens, further escalating the hard reality of the already overwhelmed journalists. Recognising this problem,  the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the situation as an infodemic, (an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find what is actually true.) and launched a war against it, calling for all sectors including tech companies to contribute their quota. 

    This new challenge is obviously universal, most newsrooms around the world have faced enormous  challenges due to the pandemic, yet these issues, though drastic, come in different forms and patterns for media organizations in different countries. This phenomenon emphasizes the need to understand the nature of the problem as experienced by newsrooms and journalists across not just across Nigeria but the world at large. 

    COVID-19 Pandemic and the new challenge for media Organizations and Journalists in Nigeria

    In Nigeria, the pandemic affected various sectors, transitioning to become far more than health and science reporting, therefore exceeding the confines of health and science journalists. Its effect on different sectors also expanded areas of reportage around the virus. Travel restrictions being imposed by different countries have turned it into a story about tourism and travel; the economic impact of fear on the stock market and the impact of people not attending work because of the lockdown turned it into a finance and business story; and the cancellation of Sports activities, also made it a sports story.

    This reality posed a new challenge, as so many journalists have to cover and learn about the COVID-19, and not just journalists but largely media organizations who had to deal with the poor economic conditions and putting in place new structures to contain the new reality. 

    To best understand the challenges journalists and media organizations in Nigeria faced while covering the pandemic and the surrounding misinformation, the framework outlined by Damian Radcliffe, a Professor of Practice, and Associate of the Center for Science Communication Research (SCR), at the University of Oregon, is borrowed into this context.  In his book “The impact of COVID-19 on journalism in Emerging Economies and the Global South” he underlined some of the  practical challenges both journalists and media organizations face in covering the pandemic.  

    Professor Radcliffe, classified the challenges media organizations and journalists face in dealing with the pandemic into four main categories, which best explained the Nigerian situation: 

    Challenge 1: Reporting from the frontline: the structural impact on newsrooms. 

    The challenges faced by newsrooms and journalists in emerging economies, including Nigeria, was making sense of the fast changing landscape. The Lockdown and restrictions brought about by the pandemic led to distributed newsrooms and made socially-distant reporting difficult. This meant that a good number of media organisations had to enforce working from home on their journalists. Tom Trewinnard Co-founder and head of Digital Consultancy Fathm  stated that “the Coronavirus crisis will soon end, but the distributed newsroom is here to stay”. His projected prophecy may seem exaggerated but the current reality seems to back it up. 

    This reality pushed several newsrooms to depend on technology since working from home was the option. The novelty of the virus and the constant barrage of complicated new information around it left most newsrooms confused on what to do next.  The most obvious example of this, perhaps, was seen in early advice about the efficacy of mask-wearing. Professor radcliffe puts here that:  

    “Many journalists have also been stymied by obfuscation, reduced access and concerns about the politicisation of government data. This has meant that in some countries we have seen disquiet about COVID cases going underreported, while in other nations there have been claims that the crisis has been purposefully exaggerated.”

    While a regional newspaper correspondent in Nigeria puts that “In my region many journalists were a public relations service for politicians.”  Elizabeth Ekale, a reporter with one of Nigeria’s wide spread newspapers outlined that:

    You could see the pressure mounting on everyone’s face in the newsroom but no one wants to plainly show it. The pandemic took away our mental health and left us confused as to what to do next. The challenge exposed our inadequacies, especially when we had to depend on different technologies for almost everything while working from home and for some of us we only heard of these for the first time. We had to learn, and make it a part of out organization.” 

    Challenge 2 – Combating fake news and the Infodemic

    The COVID-19 pandemic came with it a barrage of misinformation, disinformation and several false claims. As the virus spread, so was the false information about it. Data released by  UNESCO shows that in April 2020 alone, Facebook has flagged over 50million pieces of content related to COVID-19, While twitter has challenged over 1.5 million users, and google has blocked over 18 million scam emails on Gmail all related to Covid-19. Though these facts have  raised concerns over the impact of journalism in combating the peril of fake news and misinformation, it has also ushered in a herculean era for media organizations and their working journalists.  

    In Nigeria, multiple theories around the pandemic were designed to suit the biases of the populace. Typical examples were claims that suggested the virus was engineered in a lab as a bioterrorism agent, or that the symptoms are actually caused by the 5G mobile network. In addition, fake COVID-19 cures that were reported, and multiple false rated claims around the efficacy of the uncovered vaccine left journalists overwhelmed with finding facts to report the accurate truth.

    Kamal Ibrahim, Managing Editor, Franchise Post described what it was like for his newsroom: 

     “The fake news and false information around the COVID-19  pandemic increased our workload. It was not just reporting as usual but we also had to come up with new strategies on how to deal with the rising fake information as well as cover the actual stories around. It was like working into a new room, in the dark trying to find the door out.”

    Understanding the nature of the problem was entirely new to most newsrooms as very little or no journalist in most news organisations had ideas about fact checking. 

    Abba Musa, reporter with Daily Trust, described the situation: 

     “Social media was also very fast in dispersing information. Multiple false stories capitalizing on myths, legends and beliefs made it very difficult for us to fight back the misinformation, people easily fell for it and you become a bad buy if you try to say otherwise.”

    Political office holders, religious leaders, and traditional leaders were also not helping the situation for journalists. While some of them generate false information, some propagate it. Lateef Sanni,  Fact-checker  with Dubawa described the overbearing situation:

     “While most were trying hard to convince people on the potency and the need to take the COVID-19 vaccine, some leaders with wide followership came with contrary opinions. Yahaya Bello, the Governor of Kogi state, claimed the vaccines were harmful and a means to depopulate africans. His views were also held by former senator Dino Malaye, former Aviation Minister, Femi-Fani Kayode and reinforced by Bishop David Oyedope.”

    Ultimately, in addition to reporting the story, most newsrooms had to re-train their journalists on how to  offer practical information to audiences or useful news about the pandemic. These smaller, practical steps from trusted and up-to-date sources could help inform the public on the advice coming from broader governing bodies that they may otherwise not hear. This was in essence key in fighting the menace of misinformation but overwhelming new tasks for the journalists. 

    Challenge 3 – Encroachments on media freedom

    There are concerns that the COVID crisis is being used to curb media freedoms around the world. This is taking numerous forms, including limiting access to information, attacks on journalists, government closures of news media and new laws that limit press freedom. 

    Amnesty (and others) have commented on this new  limits to media freedom mainly due to the pandemic. New laws for journalists to abide by, restriction even for journalists, which led  to dependence on government based data, which is sometimes not reliable. 

    When the Lockdown began in Nigeria, Journalists were among the privileged essential workers who had government authorization for movement due to the importance of their job amidst the pandemic. However, even with this privilege, journalists have reported cases of harassment perpetuated by Security Men. For example, on May 19, 2020 several journalists along with other essential workers were reported to have been arrested or denied access to some places by some of the Nigerian policemen in Lagos state. A reporter with the Daily Independence complained that:

    “I was on a despatch bike but on getting to Apagbon, Lagos Island bridge, the driver (a despatch rider from another newspaper house I met at my bus stop) was forcefully stopped and the police refused us access despite tendering our identity cards. I had to find my way down to my assignment venue at CMS.”

    Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian Authorities of maltreating journalists on charges of defamation for exposing corruption, on-air personality harassment, the accusation of journalists for cybercrime, stigmatization for investigative journalism, arrest for social media posts amongst others.  Similarly, in a joint statement issued by the Article 19: 

    “The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) and Human Environment Development Agenda Resource Centre (HEDA) urge the Government of Nigeria to immediately investigate the allegations of unlawful killings of at least 21 persons, other acts of violence and intimidation of journalists which has occurred in the context of the COVID-19 lockdown since 29 March 2020.”

    This spotlights on some of the issues journalists in Nigeria go through in covering the COVID-19 pandemic. As it is not new or peculiar to Nigeria alone, in March, the Supreme Committee for dealing with COVID-19 in Oman issued a decision to

    “Stop the printing of newspapers, magazines and publications of all kinds and prevent their circulation, and prevent the sale and circulation of newspapers, magazines and publications issued outside the Sultanate.”

    So as in  Jordan, Morocco and Yemen. While this is drastically different to the Nigerian context, it only highlights the prevalent but peculiar challenges journalists face worldwide due to the pandemic. 

    Challenge 4 – Journalism’s financial free fall

    The impact of the pandemic came with a financial blow for most media organizations. The non-profit International Media Support (IMS), explains

    “It’s a paradox that, as more and more people realise they need high-quality factual information to navigate the crisis, the business models that sustain that information are collapsing. The global economic shutdown has severely reduced the advertising revenues that many media outlets depend on. Worldwide, countless independent news providers are being forced to scale down, lay off reporters or close altogether. This financial backdrop is just one factor shaping the response of news organisations and journalists to the pandemic.”

    This situation was prevalent in most media organisations in Nigeria, as most of them had to lay off some of their staff or initiate pay cuts. The Punch Newspaper, a renowned Nigerian media organisation with wide readership had to reduce the number of pages in their newspaper publication and lay off over 50 staff in May, 2020. A part of this unusual memo sent to its employees by the Managing Director of the company, Mr Ademola Osinubu read:

    “While all the displaced staff would be entitled to one month’s salary in lieu of notice, those who have spent up to ten years and above will have their long service award monetized.”

    Mr Ademola Osinubu, eventually explained why this was necessary: 

    “Before the pandemic, the company’s broad reengineering plan was well underway. The pace of implementation will increase to complement the recent proactive measures that the company has put in place to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our health and operations. In the days ahead, the company will be exploring additional ways to keep our business afloat and thriving. While we do so, we shall take due cognisance of the interest of staff, the threats to our industry and the tremors within the Nigerian economy. However, one thing is certain: the company will have to adjust all facets of its operations to reflect the realities of these trying times. Such adjustments are imminent and inevitable.”

    The Nation Newspaper, also another major media organization in Nigeria had to place many of its staff on three months compulsory leave on twenty per cent salary subject to review after the expiration. While those retained were paid fifty per cent of their salaries and allowances. In the letter issued to affected editorial and non-editorial staff, the company said the decision was taken to ensure it remains afloat. 

    Other notable media organizations in Nigeria also underwent the same reality. According to a report shared by Nairametrics the Nation newspaper has sacked 100 out of its about 500 workers across the nation. Multiple other media organizations were also affected,  the news-telegraph, Daily Independence newspaper, AIM group (owners of Nigeria Info., Cool FM, Wazobia, and Arewa) and even entertainment outlets such as  the  Iroko TV were also affected. 

    These challenges explicitly show that  for newsrooms, there’s a growing recognition that COVID-19 has impacted journalists by disrupting working practices and pervading their day-to-day operations.

    Some news organizations in Nigeria:

    • The challenges  with covering Covid-19

    The Managing Editor PRNigeria, Mohammed Lawal, expressed how his organization fared amidst the core times of the pandemic. As regards the restrictions and the lockdown, Mr Mohammed commented that: 

    “To be locked down while at home trying to do in-depth reporting as much as possible and going to the field ONLY when absolutely necessary was new and complicated to most of our journalists.”

    As regards health and safety of journalist during the height of the pandemic, Mr Mohammed outline that:  

    The access to COVID-19 Personal Protection Equipment was not sufficient, even testing kits was not prevalent in the country. The Psychological trauma and fear of possible contraction led in some case led some of our reporters into depression”

    Mrs Precilla, News Manager, Nigerian Television Authority NTA,  highlights some of the challenges the media organization faced while covering the pandemic:   

    “The Government withholding information and people’s unwillingness to speak on matters that relate to the virus was very tumultuous. While the restriction from covid test centers was also a challenge.”

    • The challenge dealing with COVID-19 mis/disinformation 

    Dealing with the overwhelming flood of misinformation as regards the pandemic, Mr Mohammed,  the Managing Editor, PRNigeria lamented that: 

    Fighting the misinformation was hard due to uncooperative officials who do not respond to calls or messages when you urgently need it to debunk a claim. Also, the lack of scientifically backed proofs to dispel some myths unless through voices of some experts was tough. It was like everyone was busy finding answers and those with questions had to wait a bit.”

    As regards dealing with Misinformation Amidst the pandemic Mrs Priscilla said: 

     “For NTA, the slogan is “when in doubt, leave out”.

    Conclusion and recommendations

    The report-based research work basically focused on the core challenges being faced by media organizations and journalists covering the coronavirus pandemic and dealing with the misinformation around it.  The commendable work media organizations carried out during the pandemic is outstanding, through their work, journalists have attempted to hold government officials accountable, and transmitted effectively the complex issues around the COVID-19 virus into a much easier and simpler form for the general public to grasp.

    Nonetheless, as recommended by Professor Redcliff, NGOs and media funders, leaders across multiple sectors, media organizations and journalists in themselves, must continue to stress the important work being carried out by the press, and strongly push back against moves to undermine it not just in Nigeria but in the world at large. Without this, there is a very real risk that some of the temporary measures outlined in this report may become permanent. 

    This could have major consequences for both the immediate information needs of communities, and the long-term picture of media freedom. 

    The crises the pandemic has showered on media organizations across Nigeria needs serious cause for study. This is vital and key in ensuring that future unprecedented matters as the pandemic does not crash the media business and leave the fragile Nigerian democracy to political leaders. The call is not just for media organizations, but everyone who knows and values the importance of good Journalism in the society. 

  • No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs

    Claim: Taking the vaccine enables you to light a bulb without electricity, according to a viral video.

    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs

    The COVID-19 vaccine cannot light a bulb. Available evidence shows that COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any implant or electrical ingredient to light up electrical bulbs.

    Full Text

    A video which was widely circulated on social media shows a man placing a bulb against the spot on his arm where he claims to have received the vaccine, and the bulb comes on. The claim infers that the COVID-19 vaccine he had taken contains ingredients that produce electricity to light a bulb when placed against the vaccination spot. This has brought about doubts around the safety of the vaccines being administered in Sierra Leone.
    Watch the video here.

    Verification

    How are vaccines made? 

    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs
    Picture from World Health Education

    According to the World Health Organisation, vaccines are generally made out of the following components:

    • Antigen: a small part of the disease-causing organism or the whole organism in a weakened or inactive form which generates an immune response 
    • Adjuvant: improves the immune response to the vaccine, sometimes by keeping the vaccine at the injection site for a little longer or by stimulating local immune cells. The adjuvant may be a tiny amount of aluminium salts (like aluminium phosphate, aluminium hydroxide or potassium aluminium sulphate)
    • Preservative: prevents the vaccine from becoming contaminated once the vial has been opened. Some vaccines don’t have preservatives because they are stored in one-dose vials and are discarded after the single dose is administered.
    • Surfactants: also often used in foods like ice cream keep all the ingredients in the vaccine blended together and prevent liquid elements from settling or clumping.
    • Stabilisers: prevent chemical reactions within the vaccine and keep the vaccine components from sticking to the vial. They can be sugars (lactose, sucrose), amino acids (glycine), gelatin, and proteins (recombinant human albumin, derived from yeast).
    • Diluents: A diluent is a liquid used to dilute a vaccine to the correct concentration immediately prior to use. The most commonly used diluent is sterile water.
    • Residuals: small amounts of various substances used during production of vaccines that are not active ingredients in the completed vaccine. Substances will vary depending on the manufacturing process used and may include egg proteins, yeast or antibiotics.

    These components are generic and apply to all vaccines, but because there are different ways to create vaccines and each vaccine produced has specific compounds unique to its design.

    So what exactly is in the COVID-19 vaccines being administered in Sierra Leone?

    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs
    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs
    Photos from Reuters

    Currently, there are two vaccines being administered in Sierra Leone;  Oxford-Astrazeneca and Sinopharm. 

    The Oxford-Astrazeneca is a viral vector vaccine which means it uses a modified version of a virus – known as “the vector” – to produce large amounts of antigens and trigger an immune response. The “vector” in this vaccine is the spike protein found on the surface of  a modified adenovirus which causes the common cold in chimpanzees.

    One dose (0.5 ml) of the  AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine contains: recombinant, replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus vector encoding the SARS-CoV-2 Spike glycoprotein; polysorbate 80 (emulsifier), ethanol and disodium edetate dihydrate (preservatives), L-histidine hydrochloride monohydrate, L-histidine (amino acids); sodium chloride, magnesium chloride hexahydrate and sucrose (salts and sugars); water (diluent) 

    Sinopharm is a whole virus vaccine which means a weakened or deactivated form of the pathogen that causes COVID-19 was used to create it. The inactivated pathogens cannot infect cells and replicate, but can trigger an immune response. One 0.5 ml dose of the Sinopharm vaccine is composed of 6.5 U (4 μg) of inactivated SARS-CoV-2 antigens and aluminium hydroxide adjuvant in phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) (3). PBS is composed of disodium hydrogen phosphate dodecahydrate, sodium dihydrogen phosphate, and sodium chloride.

    Are these ingredients electronic?

    The ingredients of these two vaccines have been published by the World Health Organization and other reputable health authorities and none have been found to compose electric or electronic qualities. 

    The Risk Communication Lead for Sierra Leone’s National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre NaCOVERC, Harold Thomas, says nothing in the vaccine is electronic. 

    “The vaccine contains material from the virus that causes COVID-19 that gives our bodies instructions to fight against the virus if we are infected.  It increases our resistance or decreases our susceptibility to the virus,” he adds, “they are safe and efficacious.”

    So why did the LED bulb in the video light up?

    The first point of call to verify this claim was to find out whether there are lightbulbs which could be powered by human touch. It turns out there are many emergency bulbs, similar to the one in the viral video, that turn on when touched. An illustration with one such bulb is done in this video.

    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs
    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs
    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs

    In a longer explanatory video, it is revealed that such bulbs have a rechargeable battery in it and it powers the bulb when it comes in contact with a conductor. Perspiration or moisture present on the arm or fingers or any part of the body act like a conductor. This possibly explains why in the viral video, the light turned on when it came in contact with water. 

    A similar video was found to have been done in Nigeria to counter this claim, where persons in the video who had not taken the vaccine used water to power a similar lightbulb.

    The Risk Communication Lead for NaCOVERC, Harold Thomas says “a battery operated bulb can light anywhere or on anything that is wet.” 

    But can the human body actually power a light bulb?

    It has been confirmed that there are indeed bulbs that can be powered by human touch but these bulbs have been designed to conduct energy from body heat. So they will light up when in contact with parts of the body regardless of taking the vaccine. 

    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs
    No! Covid-19 vaccines cannot power light bulbs

    There are even some lightbulbs that have been designed to conduct energy from water – see few here, here and here

    Conclusion

    Evidence available shows that COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any electronic or magnetic material. There is no scientific evidence that proves taking the vaccine enables the recipient to switch on a lightbulb; therefore such claim is false.

  • Should you avoid pain relievers, anesthesia for two years after COVID-19 vaccination?

    Claim: A viral WhatsApp message claims taking pain relievers or anesthesia after COVID-19 vaccination is dangerous and both should be avoided for two years.

    Should you avoid pain relievers, anesthesia for two years after COVID-19 vaccination?

    The claim that diclofenac or anesthesia should be avoided after vaccination is false and misleading as our findings and WHO’s response shows this.

    Full Text

    Aches or pain are common side effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. Vaccination side effects show that the vaccine is teaching the immune system how to recognize and attack SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). To relieve this pain, some vaccinated persons turn to pain relievers or killers.

    A recent viral WhatsApp message claims that pain relievers like diclofenac should be avoided for two years after taking COVID-19 vaccine.

    According to this message, the adverse effects of the vaccine and pain relievers have been fatal, making reference to a doctor who allegedly killed his wife by injecting her with diclofenac after COVID-19 vaccination.

    “PLS IF YOU HAVE BEEN VACCINATED FOR COVID 19 AVOID DICLOFENAC OR ANY ANAESTHESIA FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS. THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF THE VACCINE WITH THESE HAVE BEEN FATAL.”

    Excerpt of the viral WhatsApp message.

    Should you avoid pain relievers, anesthesia for two years after COVID-19 vaccination?
    Screenshot of the viral WhatsApp message.

    Verification

    Taking a close look at this claim, Dubawa noted this claim sounded and looked like the one fact-checked earlier in April, 2021.

    While the April claim says taking Pain killers after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is dangerous and can lead to death, the recent claim says to avoid diclofenac and any other anesthesia if vaccinated. 

    Both claims seem to be tied to the same story of a doctor who killed his wife by injecting her with a dose of Diclofenac after she had earlier received the COVID-19 vaccine. Dubawa’s earlier check however showed that the woman’s death was not vaccine related.

    Dubawa conducted a keyword search on Anesthesia and pain relievers.

    Anesthesia

    Anesthesia are medicines used during tests and surgical operations to numb sensation in certain areas of the body or induce sleep to prevent pain and discomfort.

    This search led to checks by Quint and India.com  discrediting the claim that getting anesthesia after vaccination is dangerous 

    Pain relievers

    Pain relievers are medicines that reduce or relieve headaches, sore muscles, arthritis, or other aches and pains. There are different pain medicines, with advantages and risks. 

    Some types of pain respond better to certain medicines than others and each person may also have a slightly different response to a pain reliever. Pain relievers go by many names; Analgesics, Narcotics, Painkillers, Pain medicine etc.

    Types of pain relievers

    There are different types of pain relievers but they can be classified into two types! Over-the-counter pain relievers and prescribed pain relievers.

    Over-the-counter (OTC): These are pain medications available at stores for any adult to purchase. They include; Acetaminophen, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) ( under which Ibuprofen and Diclofenac fall under), Combination drugs (contain both acetaminophen and aspirin, an NSAID), and Topical (cream, gel, spray or patch) that can be applied directly to the skin.

    Prescription: These medications are only available with a prescription from a healthcare provider as they provide stronger pain relief. They treat severe or chronic pain. These include; Antidepressants, Anti-seizure medications, Muscle relaxers, Opioids, Steroids and Topical.

    Pain relievers and vaccine, what you should know

    A look at studies and reports show that the arguments around pain relievers and vaccines is on the possibility of pain relievers curbing the necessary immune system response necessary to fight the virus like this study shows not on any health danger

    The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in it’s recent report in June on how to relieve COVID-19 side effects warns against pain killers before vaccination but notes it can be taken afterwards with due consultation with your doctor.

    Experience of vaccinated persons

    Dubawa also reached out to persons who have been vaccinated in Nigeria to get their experience if any with pain relievers.

    Mr Richard Akinwunmi, who has gotten his complete dose (two dose) of the Astrazeneca vaccine explained he took ibuprofen after his first dose and there was no adverse effect. 

    “For my first dose, no pain until the night of that day. I experienced a heavy shoulder and muscle spasms so I took ibuprofen for 3 days and a lot of water.

    For my Second dose, I started feeling feverish (malaria kind) almost immediately and I took a lot of water and paracetamol for 3 days.”

    Excerpt of Mr Richard’s response.

    Alhassan Bala on the other hand said he only took paracetamol.

    “Maybe because I am the type of person that hates pills, I only took paracetamol after I started experiencing fever a few hours after the dose. The fever went away after about 24hours.”

    Excerpt of Alhassan’s response. 

    Just like Alhassan, Lateef Sanni also took paracetamol which he said was recommended by the health officials where he got his vaccine and he was fine afterwards.

    “I only took paracetamol if that qualifies as a pain reliever. The doctors instructed that if I feel funny that I should use paracetamol. And that was what I did. Immediately I took it, the malaria-like symptoms I had disappeared.”

    Excerpt of Mr Lateef’s response.

    Expert opinion

    Speaking to health officials, Dubawa gathered pain relievers can be taken after vaccination not before.

    A medical officer, Lynda Effiong-Agim said it is not advisable to take pain relievers before vaccination but they can be taken afterwards as long as the person has no previous contraindication using NSAIDS.

    “If the person previously had no contraindication to using NSAIDS then there is no issue because NSAIDS aren’t for everyone. However the NSAID is not to be taken in advance before vaccination, it is afterwards to help with pain, e.t.c.”

    Excerpt of Dr Lynda’s comment.

    Another health official, a gynaecologist, Dr Monday Idoko, at Garki hospital Abuja said the claim is not scientifically justifiable and if true maybe a coincidence.

    On paracetamol which most of the vaccinated persons we spoke to said they took, he clarified it is also part of pain relievers.

    “But the claims aren’t scientifically justifiable. It may be a coincidence. Diclofenac is an abused drug bought over the counter so if it were true, we would have had a lot of these cases.”

    Excerpt of Dr Idoko’s comment.

    Dubawa also reached out to the World Health Organisation (WHO) via email. The organisation responded saying there are no recommendations that diclofenac or anesthesia should be avoided for two years following vaccination.

    The WHO added that pain killers may be used for injection site pain following vaccination, but generally paracetamol is what is recommended.

    “Diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory drug, and not an anaesthetic agent. The oral preparation of diclofenac is used to reduce inflammation and pain. The injectable version of the drug is only recommended for severe pain, often post-operative pain, and given under close medical supervision.

    Anaphylactic reactions have been reported following diclofenac, which from the news reports is felt to be the cause of death in the doctor in India.

    “Pain killers may be used for injection site pain following vaccination, but generally paracetamol is what is recommended. There are no recommendations that diclofenac or anaesthesia should be avoided for 2 years following vaccination.”

    Excerpt of WHO’s response 

    Conclusion

    The claim that diclofenac or anesthesia should be avoided after vaccination is false and misleading as our findings and WHO’s response shows this.

  • Suggestions that AstraZeneca vaccine is causing COVID infections, FALSE!

    Claim: Social media messages suggest the AstraZeneca vaccine can transmit COVID-19 and may be responsible for hike in COVID-19 Cases in Liberia

    Suggestions that AstraZeneca vaccine is causing COVID infections, FALSE!

    Although there has been a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Liberia, there is no evidence that the administration of the AstraZeneca Vaccine is responsible for this. The suggestion that the vaccine can cause COVID-19 is FALSE.

    Full Text

    A new COVID-19 variant has emerged in Liberia as the country records a new peak in infections. While virus mutations are not unusual, those that are more infectious are worrisome, making people respond in different ways across various social media platforms. Speculations have emerged in street corners that the wave of increase in COVID-19 cases in Liberia can be attributed to the  Astrazeneca vaccine being administered across the country.

    On Saturday June 19, 2021, a Facebook user shared a post questioning whether or not it was the vaccine causing an increase in infection.

    In the post which has since been deleted, the user asked his Facebook following: “have we noticed since the introduction of the vaccines, the cases have hiked?”

    Suggestions that AstraZeneca vaccine is causing COVID infections, FALSE!

    Roll-out of the AstraZeneca Vaccine

    The World Health Organization (WHO) early this year listed AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, widening access to the relatively inexpensive shot in the developing world.

    A WHO statement said it had approved the vaccine as produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea) and the Serum Institute of India.

    According to a study by the US Center for Disease Control, AstraZeneca committed to a partnership with Oxford University to ensure broad and equitable vaccine access globally during the pandemic.

    Liberia received 96,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, through the COVAX facility on April 1, 2021, joining many countries to officially launch the vaccination campaign against COVID-19.

    The Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, launched the vaccine at the Ministerial Complex in the presence of the UN Head of Agencies, the United Kingdom and European Union Ambassadors, representatives of other development partners, Cabinet Ministers, chairs of the health committees at the legislature, senior government officials and the media.

    The vaccines were later deployed to eight sites in Montserrado and Margibi counties including; the Number 14 Military hospital, JFK memorial hospital, Catholic hospital, Redemption and SOS Hospitals. 

    Verification

    Can AstraZeneca Vaccines transmit Covid-19?

    Dr Wilhemina Jallah, Liberia’s Minister of Health in a phone call with his reporter on Wednesday June 23, 2021 dismissed this claim. Dr Jallah said the Ministry of Health was in possession of “no reports or evidence” that suggest that the vaccine is capable of infecting people with COVID-19.

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the AstraZeneca vaccines were tested in state-of-the-art laboratories, tried in thousands of renowned clinics and approved by WHO.  

    The same vaccines are being administered all over the world, including countries in Africa, like Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mali and Morocco.

    Dubawa found no evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine can get people infected with COVID-19 in any of these countries. 

    According to a recent study by the UK based Public Health England, a single dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine reduced household transmission by up to half. It finds no evidence that AstraZeneca vaccine, which is also administered in Liberia, can also cause COVID infection.

    The Australian Government’s Department of Health’s patient information fact-sheet on AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) also finds no evidence that the vaccine can infect people with COVID-19 once taken.

    Can one get COVID-19 even after receiving the AstraZeneca Vaccine?

    The US Center for Disease Control says after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccinated person cannot test positive for COVID-19 on a viral test – a test which is used to determine if an individual has a current infection. The CDC further states that none of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines cause a person to test positive on viral tests, which are used to see if one has a current infection.​ Neither can any of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in clinical trials in the United States.​

    Cases of fully vaccinated individuals contracting coronavirus are rare, but not impossible. The CDC says a small percentage of fully vaccinated individuals will still get the infection but may make sickness less severe in such people.

    Conclusion

    Given the scientific evidence available, the suggestion that AstraZeneca could be responsible for hundreds of new COVID-19 cases in Liberia is FALSE and Misleading. 

    Note: The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa’s 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

  • Studies suggest COVID-19 was recorded in the US before being detected in China

    New studies suggest coronavirus (COVID-19) appeared in the U.S. as early as December 2019, weeks before cases were first recognised.

    A report by Associated Press (AP), quoting some studies, noted that while some experts are skeptical, federal health officials are beginning to accept a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. 

    These infections according to the studies were found in five U.S. states; Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

    Recall that coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019 while the first record of the virus in the U.S. was in a traveller who returned from Wuhan on January 15, 2020.

    While CDC officials at first said the U.S. outbreak occurred from mid-January to early February, these research including the one by the CDC suggests infections occurred earlier.

    The CDC-led study published in December 2020 suggested the virus infected some Americans as early as the middle of December 2019. This study analyzed 7,000 samples from American Red Cross blood donations.

    Another recent study published on Tuesday June 15, 2021, by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and a team including researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)  analyzed blood samples from more than 24,000 people across the country. 

    This was collected in the first three months of 2020 as part of a long-term study called “All Of Us” seeking to track 1 million Americans over years to study health. 

    While it is difficult to distinguish antibodies that neutralize SARS-CoV-2, and the virus that causes COVID-19, from antibodies that fight other coronaviruses, researchers in both studies used multiple types of tests to minimize false positive results.

    According to the AP, Natalie Thornburg, principal investigator of the CDC’s respiratory virus immunology team said the earlier cases were not widespread.

    “There were probably very rare and sporadic cases here earlier than we were aware of. But it was not widespread and didn’t become widespread until late February”.

  • Spotlighting Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria’s popular anti-vaccination champion who later took the jab

    On March 30, 2021 a former Nigerian Minister announced on Twitter he had taken the COVID-19 vaccine. Strange news! For over a year since the virus was first detected in Nigeria, his name, Femi Fani-Kayode rang a deterrent bell of anti-vaccination.

    Apart from his many political jabs against the ruling party, fraud allegations and their resultant court cases, Mr Fani-Kayode had before that date, played a leading role in the league of COVID-19 vaccination opposers and confronters.

    At one time, he described the vaccine as a ploy to create a new world order, at another he tagged vaccination an exercise that would result in deaths of millions. To further dissuade his followers, he would tweet unconfirmed information and conspiracy theories being peddled against the virus.

    A regular reference for journalists, Mr Fani-Kayode was once described by a fact-checker as one who makes ‘bogus statements, capitalizing on his large social media followership to spur the spread of disinformation and misinformation.’

    All reports on his conversion (those encountered in the course of research for this report) made references to his earlier comments on the virus but none made pragmatic efforts in measuring the former minister’s previous disparaging comments on his followers.

    Spotlighting Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria’s popular anti-vaccination champion who later took the jab
    Fani-Kayode’s Twitter profile

    On Twitter, the announcement was greeted with mixed reactions. To some, it was only a matter of time, they knew all along he would be vaccinated for travel access. To others, mostly ones who refused to be converted alongside him, another soldier in the fight against vaccination had been lost. A few questioned his advertent mislead of many followers.

    The numbers before conversion

    One of the first notable anti-vaccination tweets by Mr Fani-Kayode came up on March 29, 2020 when he claimed that the virus was a ploy to create a new world order and get United States President, Donald Trump out of power. Elections in the US was about seven months away by then.

    “One of the many objectives of the Illuminati & those that are behind the coronavirus pandemic & the emergence of a New World Order is to get @realDonaldTrump out of power in this year’s pres. election by sparking off a massive recession & crashing the American &world economy,” he tweeted.

    The tweet as of Monday, June 14 had garnered 6,904 retweets, likes and comments and thousands of duplication across many platforms. Some fact-checking efforts were deployed to counter these claims but not long enough, Mr Fani-Kayode released two more fearsome tweets about COVID-19 vaccines.

    On April 30, he warned Nigerians not to take vaccines which by then were in the trial stages. In doing so, he made three unfounded, totally false claims. First, that vaccination would result in millions of deaths, secondly, that Nigeria was about to enact a law to make vaccination compulsory for all, and thirdly, that the vaccines are meant to depopulate the world.

    Spotlighting Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria’s popular anti-vaccination champion who later took the jab
    Fani-Kayode’s tweet on April 30, 2020

    The first of these three claims conform with the popular misconstrued comment of Robert Young, an alternative medicine practitioner, who at a meeting of the conspiracy theory group said that vaccination is a chemical warfare to depopulate the world. The video was widely shared by many but a fact-check revealed that the comment was made earlier in 2019, before the detection of COVID-19, in respect of the different vaccines given to children in the first six years. Despite the fact-checking efforts, Mr Fani-kayode still shared the video in January 2021.

    Two days later, on May 2, he tweeted again, “@WHO are set to begin Covid 19 vaccine trials in our country. EVIL! Not only have our people been turned into Guinea pigs to test Gates’ killer vaccine but our leaders are also passing a law which will make the use of that evil vaccine compulsory. What a mess! I weep for Nigeria.”

    Some of his tweets may, at this period (with multiple vaccine roll out in many countries) come as laughing items, but they were sacred voices of caution when they were made. They were tweeted when a large part of Nigeria was on lockdown enforced to curtail the effect of the virus.

    Spotlighting Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria’s popular anti-vaccination champion who later took the jab
    Infograph: Fani-Kayode’s tweets and their numbers

    The lockdown notwithstanding, over 200, including Abba Kyari, the then Chief of Staff to the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, had died of the virus; confirmed cases were in total of thousands; patients were treated in isolation centres with close monitoring; worse still, researches on the virus had not reached advanced stages, hence, conspiracy theories held sway. In short, it was a time of panic and tweets by Mr Fani-Kayode readily reinforce people’s fears and biases.

    How then did a panic monger convert?

    The conversion and the dangers inherent in peddling falsehood

    Against the nature of his comments, Mr Fani-Kayode announced on March 30, 2021 he had taken a jab. “Despite my initially strong reservations I bowed to sound logic and superior reasoning and took my Covid 19 vaccine today,” he wrote in a thread of tweets.

    He went further to explain the ‘sound logic’ and ‘superior reasoning’ to include persuasions from his political associates and the fact that his hero, Donald Trump, had taken it, despite initial opposing stance.

    As of morning of Monday, June 14, his announcement tweets had a total of 1, 173 likes, comments and retweets a less than 10 per cent faction of interaction when compared to four of his falsehood spreading tweets examined in this piece.

    Spotlighting Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria’s popular anti-vaccination champion who later took the jab
    Infographics: Fani-Kayode’s false claims fact-checked

    This confirms the concerns of some researchers who have discovered that a good percentage of people who come in contact with false information don’t care about the follow up fact-checks. A recent survey by Zignal labs showed that 86 percent of Americans who read news articles on social media do not always fact-check.

    Not done, the ex-minister still used the opportunity of his vaccination to peddle falsehood about vaccines.

    He wrote in the thread, “The Covid vaccines we are taking in Nigeria are not Bill Gates’ vaccines and neither are we being used as Guinea pigs. These ones are tried & tested, have already been approved & have been administered successfully throughout the world. This is the Oxford Azrazeneca brand.

    “There is a world of difference between what we are being given in Nigeria & the exploratory vaccines that @WHO had wanted to test Africans with which we spoke against & resisted last year.Most importantly Bill Gates& his foundation have no connection with Oxford Azrazeneca.

    “I would not touch anything Bill Gates with a barge pole for obvious reasons. Mark it.”

    One notices that he recounted some of his earlier misinformation about the vaccines but not all that came in contact with the falsehood are impressed.

    One of his followers replied sarcastically; “I praise your patriotism for agreeing to be one of our guinea pigs. Well done.” Another wrote; “nonsense” with rolling eyes emoji.

    Perhaps this reply captures the question you might readily want to ask; “You got convinced by your sister and friend. What about the thousands you convinced and made to see the vaccine as devil products?”

    This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience(CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and Africa Uncensored.

  • How Nigeria’s ex-lawmaker spread falsehood on COVID-19 vaccine, mislead followers

    To many Nigerians, Dino Melaye is a man of several talents – a vocal politician, activist in early years and author of a book. Outside politics, the former senator’s skills in singing and dancing, which he deploys in his political battles, arguably endear him to Nigerians the most.

    In one of his ‘hit songs’ popularly titled ‘ajekun iya’, Mr Melaye was seen dancing and singing after a senate committee acquitted him in an alleged case of certificate forgery. In several others, he would mock his political opponents, and sometimes praise God for victories.

    With this mix of talent and a political career constantly laced with controversies, the former lawmaker who represented his people at both the House of Representatives and the Senate, constantly engages his millions of followers on the social media, especially on Twitter.

    This engagement took a new life in 2020 when Mr Melaye started tweeting on the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning from late 2020, he has released a series of tweets on vaccination against the novel coronavirus, mostly untrue.

    Using the ‘tweet content’ feature on Tweet Deck and a key word search of ‘COVID-19’ and ‘vaccine’, over a dozen tweets, containing purported factual information on vaccination were traced to Mr Melaye.

    An analysis of the reach and effect of some of his tweets shows that through millions of primary reach and thousands of reproduction, Mr Melaye’s conjectural tweets on vaccination have real life effects. With over two million Twitter followers, even at the time the virus was detected, Mr Melaye’s words were words of authority to many. Only a few Nigerian politicians have more followers.

    First, we take a look at the tweets and their metrics.

    Fact-checkers’ treasure trove

    On December 31, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use against the virus. Two weeks earlier, Mr Melaye had put out a video on Twitter to advise his followers on the expected vaccine. Way Back Machine only crawled on Mr Melaye’s Twitter page once in 2020. By then (December 16, 2020), he had about 2.55 million followers.

    How Nigeria’s ex-lawmaker spread falsehood on COVID-19 vaccine, mislead followers
    Way Back Machine data

    The video titled ‘Say no to Covid 19 Vaccine’ lasted about one minute 50 seconds. He started by calling on Africans, particularly Nigerians, not to accept the use of any vaccine.

    He said further, “For 100 years now, we could not find a vaccine for cancer, for over 40 years we are yet to find a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, for over another 100 years research is still going on to find a vaccine for diabetes. How on earth is it possible that in one year, you find a vaccine for COVID-19?”

    “I am calling on African leaders not to allow Africans to be used as guinea pigs by developed nations for their satanic reasons.

    “We say no to the application of any vaccine in Africa. We call on the Minister of Health of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to immediately discontinue the interaction with those who want to give us vaccines.”

    Without any evidence, he claimed that ‘intelligence gathering’ had shown that some people who took the vaccine died in just three days.

    As of Friday June 4, Twitter data shows that the video had garnered 75 thousand views, over 3000 likes, and over 1, 800 retweets.

    How Nigeria’s ex-lawmaker spread falsehood on COVID-19 vaccine, mislead followers
    Dino Melaye advises Africans against COVID-19 vaccine

    The tweet did not stop on Melaye’s page. It was retweeted close to over 2000 times across the platform. Twitter Advanced search returned the top five associates who interacted with the tweet. These associates, who retweeted Melaye’s tweet also got enmeshed in considerable interaction.

    With a total of over 100 thousand followers FS Yusuf (@_Yusuf, Dr. Ben Gbenro (@bengbenro), Bruce Batemen Esq (@demigodgeous), Nwankpa (@Nwankpa_A) and Daddy G.O (oboy_jay) all retweeted the video without captions.

    The video was more redistributed and viewed on YouTube. Top five pages who shared it on the platform amassed over 700,000 views. Other blogs and websites also shared both Mr Melaye’s narrative alongside the video.

    Majority of comments on this tweet were dismissive; in fact some fact-checks were published to debunk it but this came expectedly late and a good number of his followers took the message in. While some vowed never to take the vaccine, some others urged people to take the words of the politician seriously.

    How Nigeria’s ex-lawmaker spread falsehood on COVID-19 vaccine, mislead followers
    Melaye’s tweet widely reproduced on Youtube

    “It’s amazing how quickly people on this TL dismiss this very important message. It rather needs to be amplified,” a user replied.

    For some who came across the tweet but decided not to interact, it’s never vaccination. How this played out will be examined later in this piece but let’s first take a look at some other bogus claims on the ‘inefficiency’ of the COVID-19 vaccine by Mr Melaye.

    Early 2021, an image of Remdesivir, a drug considered for the treatment of hepatitis and Ebola virus, surfaced on social media. On the pack, it was indicated that the drug was for use in 47 African countries and not for sale in the US, Canada, or EU.

    Mr Melaye picked it up and shared with the caption “what is the meaning of this biko?” Despite fact-checking efforts, many of his followers who had assumed the drug to be a vaccine replied to his insinuation in the affirmative. At least over 1, 000 reactions were tracked across several platforms.

    How Nigeria’s ex-lawmaker spread falsehood on COVID-19 vaccine, mislead followers
    Melaye’s tweet on Remdesivir

    “My God, they (they) want to kill us since covid-19 could not do it,” one replied. Another wrote, “Who else observed Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya were exempted? Sudan was the only country amongst the North African countries that was included. Maybe the black skinned nation is their major target.”

    Close observation of replies on the tweet shows that over half of the 538 commenters (as of June 6) believe the insinuation. The tweet further reinforced an earlier conspiracy theory of African countries being targeted and marked for a wipe out. But Mr Melaye was not done.

    On January 21, he tweeted a video where he gave an over 2-minute warning to the federal government on planned vaccination, stating that vaccines are developed to suit country-type COVID-19 variants.

    He then went ahead two months later to disparage the AstraZeneca vaccine received by the federal government. In an interview with Roots TV, with thousands of views on other pages, Mr Melaye claimed that AstraZeneca is the least potent of vaccines. This time, he appeared to have reneged on his total intolerance for vaccines.

    How Nigeria’s ex-lawmaker spread falsehood on COVID-19 vaccine, mislead followers
    Melaye’s tweet on AstraZeneca

    “I’m not saying Nigerians should not take COVID-19 vaccine, but what I am saying, in essence, is that —-there are four notable vaccines approved by WHO- AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, and the one by Moderna. The least most potent of the four is AstraZeneca and the one with greater side effects.”

    He later shared an image on Twitter comparing these vaccines with similar disparaging captions. His claims, mostly inaccurate, were fact-checked here.

    How Nigeria’s ex-lawmaker spread falsehood on COVID-19 vaccine, mislead followers
    Melaye’s claims reached many people

    Again, majority of the commenters agreed but what happened offline?

    Fuel for confirmation bias

    In a popular Redeemed Church in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, it was time for another Sunday sermon in January 2021. The lead pastor whose name is excluded from this story for privacy reasons, had decided to teach on end time.

    “The pastor told us he was not going to discourage you but he won’t advise you to take it. He said he won’t take the vaccine. For me he was just saying don’t take it,” Milon, a member of the church recounts.

    That time, the vaccine was yet to arrive in the country but it was expected to come soon through the COVAX facility. On March 2, four million doses of the vaccine arrived in Nigeria and weeks later, administration of the vaccine commenced in Nigeria.

    Against the popular mindset of church members and authority, a civil servant member of the church took the vaccine early in April and died one week after.

    “Most people believed it was the vaccine that killed her. Dino Melaye’s comments were used as a point of reference whenever my church members talked about the vaccine.

    “After her death, you’ll hear people saying we were told not to take it and she (the deceased) acted otherwise. The death really reinforced his comments. I don’t think up to one per cent of members have taken the vaccine” Milon said.

     “Especially, the youth in my church, they believe Dino Melaye was formerly in the APC (ruling party) before, so if he’s saying this there must be an iota of truth. My sister is not taking this and I know it’s due to these tweets. She follows him and loves him so much,” Milon said.

    Milon took his first jab in March and is due for the second soon but he dares not inform his family or any of his church members.

    While vaccination is understood to be individuals’ decision, the influence of public figures like Dino Melaye cannot be overlooked. This was confirmed in interaction and interviews with some youth members of the church.

    “Many prominent people in the country such as Dino Melaye, Pastor Chris (being) against this vaccine is enough reason to convince someone not to (take the vaccine.),” a female member of the church said, adding that “the way the country is, it’s actually hard for someone to trust government officials, you feel like how sure am I that something is not behind this thing.”

    Mr Melaye did not respond to a request for an interview sent to him via messaging app as his known lines were switched off.

    Back to the church, five other youth members who spoke on record would not take vaccines. Their faith leaders have warned against it and their political leaders are not ready to be vaccinated, why should they?

    This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience(CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and Africa Uncensored.

  • Prof. Montagnier did not claim all who took COVID-19 Vaccine would Die in Two Years

    Claim: A viral WhatsApp message states that all those who took the COVID-19 vaccine will die in two years.

    Prof. Montagnier did not claim all who took COVID-19 Vaccine would Die in Two Years

    This claim is false and misleading as Nobel Laureate, Professor Luc Montagnier did not say categorically that all individuals who receive the COVID-19 vaccine will die in two years.

    Full Text

    Purveyors of fear and conspiracy theories about the imaginary dangers of COVID-19 vaccines have refused to back down even as governments and health-focused civil society organisations strive to ensure that many individuals take the COVID-19 vaccine for their protection.

    Recently, a viral WhatsApp message claims that everyone who takes the COVID-19 vaccine will die in two years. The statement attributed to an epidemiologist, Professor Montagnier, claims “there is no hope, and no possible treatment for those who have been vaccinated already.”

    The message also claims that all individuals who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine will “all die from antibody dependent enhancement.” A link to Dr. Montagnier’s Wiki page was also shared in the viral message. 

    Prof. Montagnier did not claim all who took COVID-19 Vaccine would Die in Two Years
     Screenshot of the WhatsApp message

    Verification

    Dubawa clicked on the website link in the WhatsApp message and was redirected to a news story on LifeSiteNews. The website claims it is a non-profit Internet service “dedicated to issues of culture, life, and family.” It reports on developments in the United States, Canada, and around the world and was originally a publication by Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), a Canadian national pro-life organisation.

    The news was published by LifeSiteNews on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. It was reported that Dr. Montagnier made this claim in a French interview which was translated and published by RAiR Foundation, USA on May 18, 2021.

    This claim has gone viral across the world and it was still received from a Nigerian contact by this writer on May 30, 2021. It has also been shared on numerous WhatsApp groups in Nigeria.

    Who is Dr. Luc Montagnier

    Dr. Luc Montagnier is a French virologist and Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine, who was recognized (along with two others) for his contribution to the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 2008. However, he has been in the news for promoting several controversial claims about vaccinations, homeopathy, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Montagnier has become so controversial that in 2017, over a hundred academic scientists condemned his promotion of controversial claims in an open letter.

    Dr. Montagnier has claimed in an interview with “Pourquoi Doctor” then on the CNews site in 2020 that coronavirus was man made (in a laboratory) and that it contains genetic material from HIV. The interview has now been deleted. He has also claimed that the administered COVID-19 vaccines are what is creating the different variants of the disease.

    In the past, he has claimed that water has memory, a good immune system could prevent people from contracting HIV and was against the French Government’s move to make some vaccines compulsory.

    Verification

    While Dr. Luc Montagnier is clearly against COVID-19 vaccines, a translated two and half minutes video of his interview on Rumble as well as a translation of the full interview on Planet360 did not contain any specific information about people dying in two years.

    Dr. Montagnier, however, condemned COVID-19 vaccines in the interview, claiming that the vaccines are responsible for the increasing variants of the COVID-19 virus.

    The World Health Organisation has confirmed the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines as well as several recognised scientists and institutions the world over, such as the John Hopkins Medicine Centre in the United States, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

    The World Health Organisation has also condemned Dr. Montagnier’s claim that the vaccines are causing new variants of COVID-19, stating that there is no evidence that this is true.

    Several national and international fact-checking organisations like India Today, Politifact, APnews, Deccan Herald have also fact-checked this claim with the verdict that Dr. Montagnier did not say that individuals who take the COVID-19 vaccine would die in two years.

    LifeSiteNews has also added a corrigendum to the story on May 27, 2021, stating that they did not publish any comment saying Montagnier claims individuals who are vaccinated would die in two years and that this version of his interview emanated only on social media. LifeSiteNews claims it only reported what Dr. Montagnier said in the interview about vaccines (being a medical and scientific error), and that several scientists have rejected his claims.

    Conclusion

    Dr. Luc Montagnier is controversial and has authored a few hoaxes about COVID-19. He is also against the COVID-19 vaccine, but he did not say that all those who take the COVID-19 vaccine would die two years after taking the vaccine.

  • Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria

    Claim: A news blog @lindaikejiblogofficial claims Indian COVID-19 variant is now in Nigeria

    Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria

    The Indian variant–B.1.617–has been confirmed in Nigeria with cases in Edo and Osun states.

    Full Text

    Viruses mutate all the time, producing different versions or variants of themselves. While most of these mutations are insignificant, others can be more contagious and harder to vaccinate against.

    The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is a type of coronavirus, a large family of viruses named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. A United State (US) government inter-agency group developed a Variant Classification scheme that  classifies COVID-19 into three: variants of interest, variants of concern, and variants of high consequence.

    Recently a news blog @Lindaikejiblogoffical claims that a new variant from India is now in Nigeria and has been found in Edo and Osun states in Nigeria. This blog quoted Professor Oyewale Tomori as saying this at an interview with Leadership newspaper.

    Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria
    Screenshot of LindaIkejiblogofficial Instagram post.

    Screenshots of this post have been making the rounds on  WhatsApp and was sent in for verification by one of our subscribers prompting Dubawa to look into the claim.

    Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria
    Screenshot of the post going viral on WhatsApp.

    Verification

    Dubawa conducted a keyword search on the Indian variant and its spread, and to find  accredited reports on such variants.

    Is there an Indian variant?

    Yes, there is a variant known as B.1.617 which was first detected in India in October 2020. This variant, which has been classified as one of global concern, has spread to 49 countries. So far, seven African nations including Nigeria have now officially detected the variant within their territories.

    Our keyword search also led to the report accredited by the news blog. The report by Leadership which was published on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, according to Tomori, revealed the Indian COVID-19 variant has entered Nigeria.

    Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria
    Screenshot of Leadership’s report.

    Professor Tomori said Nigeria has recorded five cases of the Indian COVID-19 variant in Osun and Edo states.

    Who is Professor Tomori?

    Professor Oyewale Tomori is a biologist and a member of the Global Virome Project Leadership Board. 

    Oyewale is the immediate past President of the Nigerian Academy of Science with experience in virology, disease prevention and control.

    Between 1994 to 2004, he worked with the World Health Organization’s Africa Region, from where he participated in establishing the African Regional Polio Laboratory Network. He moved on to become the Vice Chancellor of the Redeemer’s University in Nigeria from 2004 to 2011.

    Dubawa’s search also led to other reports confirming the variant’s existence in Nigeria. A report by Pulse Nigeria quoted Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as confirming that the variant has been in Nigeria for three weeks already.

    Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria
    Screenshot of Pulse Nigeria’s report.

    Another report by Punch noted that the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Disease (ACEGID) in the Redeemers University Ede, Osun State alerted the NCDC of Indian’s new variant three weeks ago.

    Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria
    Screenshot of Punch’s report.

    Also, a Twitter post by the centre revealed the existence of the variant, noting it will provide an update on the virus during its Director-General, Chike Ihekweazu’s, appearance on Arise TV.

    Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria
    Screenshot of NCDC’s Twitter post.

    Dubawa found the Arise TV morning show on Youtube with the NCDC speaking on the Indian variant in Nigeria. The DG confirmed the centre was informed by the Research Institute, ACEGID, which is one of its partners in the research about the Indian variant three weeks ago.

    Yes! Indian COVID-19 variant now in Nigeria
    Screenshot of the Arise Morning Show.

    In this video, he added that the country has everything under control, noting the travel ban on India, Turkey, and Brazil two weeks ago was a product of its advice to the government after conducting a risk assessment. 

    Conclusion

    Yes, the Indian variant, B.1.617, was found in Nigeria three weeks ago and the NCDC has confirmed that it has everything under control. As new variants continue to emerge, scientists are working on learning about their characteristics (how easily they spread, whether they could cause more severe illness, and whether existing approved vaccines will protect people against them). Nevertheless, it is recommended to continue observing COVID-19 preventive measures.

  • COVID-19 vaccines tested safe, not ‘deadly’ as preached by Bishop Oyedepo

    Claim: A news report by Newsclickng claims David Oyedepo, a christian cleric,  has warned his members against taking the COVID-19 vaccine as it is deadly and has not been tested.

    COVID-19 vaccines tested safe, not ‘deadly’ as preached by Bishop Oyedepo

    The claim that the  COVID-19 vaccine is deadly and has not been tested is false and misleading.

    Full Text

    With over three million deaths across nearly 200 countries of the world, including Africa where as of May 9, 2021, there have been 124,715 deaths amid efforts to vaccinate.

    Nigeria is not left out of vaccination efforts as it began vaccination of its citizens in March. In view of this, a recent news report by Newsclickng claims the General Overseer (GO) of the Living Faith Church International popularly known as Winners Chapel, Bishop David Oyedepo, urged his church members to reject COVID-19 vaccination.

    According to this report, this comment was made on Sunday during the 40th-anniversary thanksgiving service of the church in the Ota Cathedral in Ogun State.

    The report added that the GO asked that he be consulted to find out how to deal with COVID-19 at no cost.

    “Let me warn you against this deadly thing circulating around the country because it has not been duly tested. An elder of this church, who works with the World Health Organisation, confirmed this, thanking me for always speaking the truth about the authenticity of the COVID-19 vaccinee.”

    Excerpt of Oyedepo’s comment in Newsclickng’s report.

    COVID-19 vaccines tested safe, not ‘deadly’ as preached by Bishop Oyedepo
    Screenshot of Newscliclng’s report.

    Verification

    Dubawa conducted a keyword search which led to other news reports on the same subject.

    A report by The Nation noted that David Oyedepo said the vaccine is deadly and untested. The report also added that the pastor made his claim based on a confirmation of an elder of this church, who works with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    COVID-19 vaccines tested safe, not ‘deadly’ as preached by Bishop Oyedepo
    Screenshot of the Nation’s report

    Another report by The Cable carries the same claim.

    COVID-19 vaccines tested safe, not ‘deadly’ as preached by Bishop Oyedepo
    Screenshot of Cable’s report.

    After reading these reports, Dubawa went ahead to find the video clip of the church service that has been referenced in the claim attributed to Pastor Oyedepo.

    We first found a short video clip of about 6minutess 20seconds of Mr Oyedepo speaking against the vaccine.

    COVID-19 vaccines tested safe, not ‘deadly’ as preached by Bishop Oyedepo
    Screenshot of 6minutes Youtube video.

    Dubawa also found the full live stream (9hours 51minutes) of the Church’s 40th-anniversary thanksgiving service on Living Faith Church Global’s Youtube page which has 368,000 subscribers.

    COVID-19 vaccines tested safe, not ‘deadly’ as preached by Bishop Oyedepo
    Screenshot of 6minutes Youtube video.

    Here we found this comment was actually made by the televangelist from about  5hours, 59minutes and 30seconds to about 6hours, 5mins and 22 seconds into the live stream of the service. This video which was streamed 21hours ago (that is on Sunday, May 9, 2021) had generated 144,000 views as of Monday, May 10, 2021.

    While speaking to his new book titled “Jesus still heals all terminal diseases including coronavirus,” he warned against the vaccine noting it has not been tested.

    He added that an oil blessed by him cures coronavirus.

    “let me again warn you against the vaccine that they carry around. I am not a medical doctor but I read, it has not been tested, sir. I ran into one of our elders who worked for the WHO for 12 years and he said thank you sir for exposing this thing.

    They wanted Africa dead, I heard them say it. When we were not dying, they now said how can we kill them faster? Africa has the least casualties of coronavirus among all the continents of the world.

    They should come and find out from us how to deal with coronavirus at no cost. If I bless your bottle of oil, no matter who you are in the world, and you are a child of God and you take a shot of it, tell me where they will find coronavirus. That is my area, that is my calling. Be careful of that deadly thing called a vaccine, be careful.”

    Reacting to what he described as a governor’s comment on terminating workers who refuse vaccination, he said “There is no law under heaven that enforces medication on anybody. If anyone terminated you for not taking the vaccine, my God will show up. Don’t listen to any harassment. I have never seen a place like this just carry an ignorant thing on our head. One governor just changed it quickly that if you are interested take it. That was not what he said before. Get this book and live free from every fear of the devil”.

    Excerpt of Oyedepo’s comment.

    First, in Oyedepo’s statement, the said elder who allegedly works with the WHO was not named. Also, the claim that COVID-19 vaccines are targeted at reducing Africa’s population has been debunked by Dubawa and it is noteworthy that vaccines are being rolled out not only in Africa but all over the world

    In Nigeria, although the vaccine is recommended, it is not compulsory

    The claim that the vaccine is not tested is false, as available documents by vaccine producers like Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca (which is currently being administered in Nigeria), the Johnson and Johnson vaccine

    and the WHO have shown the testing process of these vaccines.

    Dubawa also reached out to the World Health Organisation(WHO) who debunked this claim, noting that all COVID-19 vaccines with its emergency listing have been tested for safety. 

    “COVID-19 vaccines save lives. They also protect people against severe illness from the virus and are a key tool in helping to end the pandemic. We are not aware of the unnamed WHO staff member allegedly quoted in this piece. All COVID-19 vaccines with WHO Emergency Use Listing are deemed to be safe and effective.”

    Excerpt of WHO’s comment.

    The organisation also added that other measures like face mask-wearing are necessary especially at large gatherings.

    “Along with COVID-19 vaccines, mask-wearing, regular hand-cleaning and safe social distancing, particularly at larger gatherings, will also save lives and protect people from the virus.”

    Excerpt of WHO’s comment.

    Conclusion

    The claim by the General Overseer of the Living Faith Church, David Oyedepo, that the  COVID-19 vaccine is deadly and has not been tested is false and misleading. Our findings and comments from the World Health Organization confirm this. 

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