Covid-19/Vaccines: The Needless Fear and Conspiracy Theories

File: Treatment of Coronavirus victims. Photo credit: The Straits Times


File: Doctors treating coronavirus patients


Uche Diala

As usual when we mix science and a potpourri of varied other things, the result is confusion and fear. But God is not an author of confusion.

Vaccines are used to prevent diseases and they have been with us for ever.


It is known that the process of inoculation against smallpox was used by Chinese physicians in the 10th century.

It was Edward Jenner, a Doctor in Berkeley in Gloucestershire who started work on vaccines with his famous Small Pox vaccine in 1796. He established the procedure by introducing material from a cowpox vesicle on Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid, into the arm of a boy named James Phipps. Two months later he inoculated the boy with smallpox and the disease did not develop.

The term vaccination was coined in 1800 by the surgeon Richard Dunning in his text ‘Some observations on vaccination’. Since then vaccination campaigns have spread throughout the globe, sometimes prescribed by law or regulations.

Louis Pasteur further developed the technique during the 19th century, extending its use to killed agents protecting against anthrax and rabies. The method Pasteur used entailed treating the agents for those diseases so they lost the ability to infect, whereas inoculation was the hopeful selection of a less virulent form of the disease and Jenner’s vaccination entailed the substitution of a different and less dangerous disease. Pasteur adopted the name vaccine as a generic term in honour of Jenner’s discovery.

Maurice Hilleman was the most prolific vaccine inventor, developing successful vaccines for measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae.

In modern times, the first vaccine-preventable disease targeted for eradication was smallpox. The World Health Organization (WHO) coordinated this global eradication effort. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977. In 1988, the governing body of WHO targeted polio for eradication by 2000. Although the target was missed, cases have been reduced by 99.99%.

In 2000, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization was established to strengthen routine vaccinations and introduce new and under-used vaccines in countries with a per capita GDP of under US $1000.

In addition to the diseases mentioned above, vaccines are now routinely used against an even wider variety of diseases including Cholera, Diphtheria, Rotavirus, whooping cough, Thyphoid, Tuberculosis etc. There’s even an attempt at creating a vaccine for malaria.

Therefore vaccines are not new to mankind and they save millions of lives every year. Polio vaccine for instance as mentioned above has stopped many children from becoming paralyzed which used to be commonplace before the global campaign to eradicate polio. It is hard to see any child that is paralyzed by polio nowadays even in Nigeria.


This is not the first time the world is experiencing a serious or major pandemic like the current Coronavirus pandemic.

▪︎The #BlackDeath, also known as the Pestilence and the Plague, was the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, resulting in the deaths of up to 75-200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.

Plague, the disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is believed to have been the cause; Yersinia pestis infection can cause septicaemic and pneumonic plagues but most commonly results in bubonic plague.

The Black Death was the second Plague pandemic recorded, after the Plague of Justinian (542-546). The Plague created religious, social, and economic upheavals, with profound effects on the course of European history.

The Black Death probably originated in Central Asia or East Asia, from where it travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1347. From there, it was most likely carried by fleas living on the black rats that travelled on Genoese merchant ships, spreading throughout the Mediterranean Basin and reaching Africa, Western Asia, and the rest of Europe via Constantinople, Sicily, and the Italian Peninsula.

The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population. In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 475 million to 350 – 375 million in the 14th century. It took 200 years for Europe’s population to recover to its previous level. Outbreaks of the plague recurred until the early 20th century.

▪︎Another pandemic is the #SpanishFlu.
The Spanish Flu, also known as the 1918 Flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic. Lasting from January 1918 to December 1920, it infected 500 million people – about a quarter of the world’s population at the time. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

The Spanish flu was the first of two pandemics caused by the H1N1 influenza virus; the second was the swine flu in 2009.


Throughout all these pandemics and at all times in human history, the debate over the safety of vaccines have raged alongside conspiracy theories on motives and genuine concerns over safety but there are no consensus on any of those and the overall benefits of vaccines and vaccination continue to outweigh any risks or fears.

The instant case of the Coronavirus pandemic is no exception. The conspiracy theories have grown even louder and more sophisticated fueled by politics, the internet age and proliferation of fake news.

One recurring name used in most Coronavirus vaccine conspiracy theories mainly fueled by people who oppose public vaccinations (the so called anti-vaxxers conspiracy theory) is Bill Gates.

Bill Gates reached the third spot on South Africa’s Twitter trends on March 31, 2020, with over 35,000 tweets mentioning his name. An overwhelming number of the accounts that tweeted his name claimed Africa should not accept a vaccination for COVID-19 from Bill Gates, even though no vaccination is currently available.

Tracing the content of the tweets revealed a fake message claiming to be from a French Doctor that hopped from Facebook to Twitter, making its way from France to the United States to South Africa and ultimately Nigeria.

Bill Gates has been the target of multiple conspiracy theories about the spread of the new coronavirus. One of the first theories, started by QAnon supporter Jordan Sather, claimed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave funding to an institute that patented a coronavirus vaccination, thus somehow implying Gates started the virus so he could sell vaccinations.

The theory was debunked after it was proven that the funding in question had gone to avian coronavirus research, not COVID-19. Nonetheless, its online spread demonstrates how disinformation can quickly travel across languages, countries and internet platforms.

Furthermore, some conspiracy theorists have claimed albeit without any credible proof that someone created the COVID-19 in a Laboratory. Even if by any stretch of the wild imagination, someone created the coronavirus (which has not been proven), so what should we do?
Not search for a vaccine to stop people becoming infected and just watch people die because of some people’s imagination? That surely is a crazy and unthinkable option.

There is a process for vaccines production and approval. If and when a vaccine is discovered for the COVID-19, it would go through the mandatory and rigorous scientific processes and procedures for efficacy and safety.

The General Stages Of The Development Cycle Of A Vaccine Are:

1. Exploratory stage
2. Pre-clinical stage
3. Clinical development
4. Regulatory review and approval
5. Manufacturing
6. Quality control

Therefore this ignorant and mischievous notion that someone can just smuggle Coronavirus vaccines into Nigeria through the Abuja International Airport and nichodemously administer them on people is utter baldardash.
There are number of candidate vaccines in the works but none has been approved or even reached the approval stage. The fastest might be close to one year away and when it gets to that stage, the World Health Organisation (WHO) will be involved.

People should just stop all the nonsense conspiracy theories and fake news. The world and indeed Nigerians need to listen more to scientists than to politicians and religious leaders.

The world just needs to be constantly vigilant and prepared because there will always be new and emerging diseases. So long as there are new and old diseases, vaccines will be needed to control them and save lives.

That is science not conspiracy.

@ Dr Uche Diala