One year after Nigeria rolled out the national COVID-19 vaccination, uptake remained low among eligible persons with myths and misconceptions spreading like a veldfire. Religion has consistently been part of everyday life in Nigeria; and there have been concerns over the danger of spreading fears and misinformation about COVID-19 through faith platforms at a time when fact-based action is critical to curbing the contagion. To mitigate this trend, adopting faith-leaders-led advocacy and community engagement on COVID-19 vaccination proved strategic in reversing infodemics on COVID-19 vaccines.
A special workshop for 25 Religious leaders across the gender divide from the Moslem and Christian faiths was held in Abuja from the 2nd to the 3rd of November 2022, supported by Christian –Aid- UK, Nigeria. Religious leaders from AMAC and Bwari Area Council and few other participants from Kaduna participated in the interactive discussions.
Some public health experts and the media had shown concern that vaccine hesitancy, non-compliance, is hindering vaccination uptake. The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency of Nigeria also expressed concern that with more than one year after Nigeria had rolled out COVID-19 vaccination, uptake had remained low among eligible persons.
The workshop empowered religious leaders to be champions and positive influencers of COVID-19 vaccination uptake and conveyors of transformative messages addressing vaccination hesitancy. It empowered the participants with information on COVID-19 as a global public health concern and also establish plans for faith leaders-led advocacies and community engagements on COVID-19 vaccination mitigation.
Due to religious diversity and different backgrounds in training, the opinions and comprehension of some participants was far from what is happening in reality but the facilitators were able to carry everyone along. The participants acknowledged having received useful information and were empowered to make a change in their congregations by creating awareness on the advantages of the COVID-19 vaccines.
The question-and-answer sessions helped allay fears and myths of the vaccines. The participants had an opportunity to get vaccinated at the workshop. This was a way of addressing the fear and hesitancy among the participants. With no severe reactions reported among all who got vaccinated, this became an entry point for the advocates as they were ready to talk from experience. The training empowered religious leaders and would be useful to have more areas covered. The participants developed their work plans allowing each to use what will work best for each on return.
One religious leader was confident to make a change in his community on his return home. “I am now empowered to dispel myths and fears on COVID-19 vaccination. I have been challenged to play my role right as a religious leader through this training. I no longer believe the myths and am no longer afraid because I did not die after getting vaccinated,” said one leader from Kaduna. The empowered religious leaders were confident to be effective champions to drive positive change to COVID-19 vaccination, set to result in an increased uptake.