About a year after the coronavirus began its deadly rampage across the globe, many were relieved to hear that the long-awaited vaccines had arrived. But not everyone in Nigeria was eager to spread the gospel of this medical breakthrough.
Despite the administration of the first jabs in Nigeria beginning on March 5, several influential church leaders have since been vocal about their disapproval of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The General Overseer of the Living Faith Church International (Winners Chapel), Bishop David Oyedepo, in his message to church members last Sunday, argued in favour of a spiritual remedy to the spread of COVID-19.
Oyedepo, who spoke on vaccination efforts targeted at churches, said, “What an insult! What an assault! Nobody has the right to enforce vaccination on you, and nobody can terminate your employment because you refuse to take the vaccine; my God will show up (for you). Did I tell anyone I am sick? Don’t let anyone harass you into doing what you don’t want to do.”
Like Oyedepo, the General Overseer of the Omega Fire Ministries International, Apostle Johnson Suleman, did not refrain from giving his strong opinions on the COVID-19 vaccine.
He told his followers, “I don’t say it is spiritual but I see something medical; that thing is not good and I’m hearing in some places now, they are making it compulsory. People are watching online; they will misunderstand me. If you want to take it, take it, but I’ll advise anybody who has consciousness not to take it. It’s not healthy.”
In the same vein, Pastor Chris Okotie of Household of God Church International Ministries described the inoculation against COVID-19 as satanic, saying anyone who received the jab had entered into an agreement with the devil.
He said, “Since the blood of Jesus is not what he (Satan) is talking about, or what he has to offer, he will require you to seek blood somewhere else. And the only place where you can find blood is in another human being. So, one of the things that the vaccine will make you do is to become a vampire who needs to drink blood for sustenance.”
On March 30, the Founder of Christ Embassy, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, was seen in a video published on the church’s YouTube channel, condemning fellow Christian clerics for telling their followers to receive the vaccine.
Oyakhilome, in a sermon, said, “I can’t understand how a minister of the gospel would be waiting for some vaccine to be the solution for the world. Where is your faith? Where is the Word of God in your mouth? If I say to someone, you shall live and not die, that’s it for him.”
But the Senior Pastor of Trinity House, Ituah Ighodalo, was quick to dispel the unsubstantiated claims about the vaccine in an interview with ARISE TV, saying, “It is foolishness to keep having faith that God will protect you from an infection (for which) He has made provision for vaccines that can provide a high percentage of protection.”
Ighodalo advised his fellow pastors “to do their research, get the knowledge and stop misinforming and improperly educating people on guesswork, instincts and mere suppositions.”
A professor of virology at the University of Ibadan, Prof David Olaleye, told Sunday PUNCH in an interview that there was no basis in the perpetuated claims (by the church leaders), saying vaccines had been used to control and eradicate infections and diseases in humans and animals since the 17th century.
Olaleye said, “I agree that these are conspiracy theories that are scientifically baseless. There is no evidence to justify this. That’s one area that we need education in. Some people have said it (COVID-19 vaccine) came out too quickly, so there must be something behind it. Since the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2002/2003, people have been studying coronavirus.
of Health, the Gates Foundation, the Department for International Development, and the European Union because of the respiratory nature of the infection. It spreads very quickly, so people have been working. Ignorance sometimes can be expensive and cause a lot of harm.”
Medical virologist and healthcare research scientist, Adeleke University, Dr Oladipo Kolawole, in a text message, stated that none of the claims by the Christian leaders was correct, adding, “Based on findings published in peer-reviewed journals, I did not come across any of such claims.”
He noted that the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine that had been documented under the “common” category included “injection site swelling, injection site erythema, injection site induration, influenza-like illness,” while “very common” side effects included “injection site tenderness, injection site pain, injection site warmth, injection site pruritus, injection site bruising, fatigue, malaise, pyrexia, chills, myalgia, arthralgia, headache, and nausea.”
The President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Prof Innocent Ujah, in a separate interview with Sunday PUNCH, lamented that people took the opportunity to deceive people as Nigeria “is a diverse country that is largely illiterate.”
He said, “We have vaccination against measles. Within the first week of birth, we have vaccines to prevent tuberculosis. We have a vaccine against human papillomavirus that causes cancer of the cervix.
“In 2002/2003, there was some really bad misinformation about polio even among those who were educated and it was propagated by someone who was knowledgeable, which created problems of acceptance, until religious leaders and traditional rulers were brought to the North to say it was not a way to depopulate the North. But now, Nigeria is polio-free.”
Ujah’s predecessor, Dr Francis Faduyile, also said if anybody made claims that a vaccine was unhelpful, such a person was ill-informed.
Speaking on the relative speed of vaccine production, the former NMA president explained, “It is about them not knowing that SARS or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome are forms of COVID-19 infection and there has been a lot of research on the vaccination for them.”
When contacted, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, the Special Adviser on Media to the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev Supo Ayokunle, said the association had opened an investigation into the veracity of the claims made by sceptics of the vaccine.
Oladeji said, “We are not asking people to take or not to take (the COVID-19 vaccine). When the leadership of CAN meets, we will state our position. Our people are in the field conducting research on the impact and effects of the vaccine all over the world. I believe that when that investigation is concluded, we will come out with a position paper on it and the whole world will know where CAN stands.”
So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed over three million lives, while 162 million have been infected. In Nigeria, over 2,000 have been lost to the virus, out of over 166,000 confirmed cases.