Today, March 6, 2021, Ghana’s 64th Independence Day should have seen the nation in celebratory mode, with parades nationwide, with the spotlight on smartly turned out school children and security services personnel, as seen every year.
Alas, in 2021, it’s a vastly different story, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This time, it’s not the heroism of the Independence struggle as the highlight of the ‘Ghana Month’.
It’s not ‘let’s celebrate’, but rather a vigorous campaign to ‘mask up, keep your distance and vaccinate to stop the spread of the virus’.
Also, this year will go down in history as the year when, for the first time, as part of strategies to stop the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic, grand Independence Day parades were absent.
Health authorities stress that the vaccine is one more protective layer.
It complements the World Health Organization’s response to the terrifying global public health crisis: the wearing of masks; suspension of large gatherings; social distancing; frequent washing of hands with soap under running water; use of hand sanitizer; and no handshakes.
Last week, the pandemic toll in Ghana was reportedly 5,444 active cases, with 607 deaths, recoveries of nearly 78,000 and a daily infection rate of 400.
On Wednesday, February 24, Ghana became the first African country to take delivery of its first consignment of the mostly free vaccine under the COVAX Facility.
COVAX, or the ‘COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access’ is a programme by the WHO to ensure vaccine access to the world's most vulnerable.
As reported by the Daily Guide of February 25: Ghana took delivery of 600,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccines, “an occasion described as momentous by both the World Health Organization and the UNICEF in a joint statement.
“The first doses of the AstraZeneca attracted prime time mention on the international media – BBC and Al Jazeera.”
Minister-designate for Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, led the government’s delegation to receive the well-publicized the first consignment of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India.
Initial vaccine beneficiaries include: health workers; adults over 60 years; people with underlying health conditions; frontline executives; the legislature; the judiciary, frontline security personnel; essential workers and teachers.
Being selected to be the first beneficiary in Africa of the Covax vaccine arrangement is no mean achievement, as it was based on the effective preparations and capacities approved by the WHO and partners.
Thus Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, and his Government have demonstrated exemplary pragmatism and visionary leadership.
Nevertheless, this is not to say that there is total commendation for the President’s resourcefulness.
Perplexingly, there appears to be a campaign of skepticism about the Government’s efforts.
Even the ceremony at the airport to receive the vaccine attracted some spiteful and condescending comments on social media.
According to some of the commentators, the arrival of the vaccine was no big deal.
One such critic wrote: “Eiiii Ghana, vaccine receival Keke (sic), our leaders have left their offices, media houses devote such time to run commentary as if the vaccine was a cure to death itself.”
The irony, evidently lost on that commentator is that the coronavirus vaccine is truly seen as a life saver, in a way a “cure to death”, as he put it. The importance of the vaccine is explained this way by the WHO:
“The COVID-19 vaccines produce protection against the disease, as a result of developing an immune response to the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Developing immunity through vaccination means there is a reduced risk of developing the illness and its consequences.
“This immunity helps you fight the virus if exposed. Getting vaccinated may also protect people around you, because if you are protected from getting infected and from disease, you are less likely to infect someone else.”
Despite the disparaging view of the naysayers, the arrival of the precious vaccine, as indicated above, was an event seen as so significant that it was keenly watched and reported by the international media.
On Tuesday March 2, the national Covid-19 vaccination began, but the day before, to encourage the public to trust the vaccine, President Nana Akufo-Addo was the first to be inoculated in front of TV cameras at the Military Hospital.
First Lady Rebecca, too, took the jab.
President Akufo-Addo said: “It is important that I set the example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it so that everybody in Ghana can feel comfortable about taking the vaccine.”
This was followed by Vice-President Alhaji Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, and his wife, Samira, too, taking theirs at the Police Hospital.
Interestingly, the cynicism is not a solely Ghanaian problem. There are reports from all over the world of similar suspicion of the vaccine.
There are even people who take pride in being described as ‘anti-vaxxers’, “people who disagree with the use of vaccines for a variety of reasons.”
On March 1, the front pages of British newspapers featured robust advice from 94-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, that people should appreciate the importance of the vaccine because the lives of others depends on everybody being inoculated to stop the spread of the virus.
The Daily Mail had this blunt headline: “QUEEN: IT’S SELFISH NOT TO HAVE JAB”.
Unfortunately, the vaccine refusers and scaremongers continue their agenda of creating or spreading unproven and outlandish fears about the vaccine.
Yet, it needs to be recognized that some of the strong opposition to the vaccine stems purely from ignorance, so it requires continuing education.
Even so, vaccine skeptics should reflect on the number of people who have lost their lives, victims of the virus. Most probably they would have survived if they had been vaccinated.
Tragically, those victims didn’t have the luxury of having a choice, to vaccinate or not, whereas the rest of us are lucky enough to have been given this lifeline, the vaccine. Clearly, people need to reflect on and support the Government’s vaccine offensive.