From Doubt to Determination: Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy and Mobilizing Youth at Lagos State University
Published on November 17, 2023
By Preethi Murthy, program officer, MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity; Khadijah A. Ibrahim Nuhu, senior SBCC advisor, MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity Nigeria; and Marie Olushola, communications consultant
Damilare Ojo, a drama and theater arts student at Lagos State University in Nigeria, had doubts about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine as did many of his friends and peers on campus. Their hesitation stemmed from misinformation on social media. “I believed that the vaccine would alter my DNA” said Damilare about his initial decision to not get vaccinated, echoing one of many widely spread false rumors about the vaccine.
Overcoming vaccine hesitancy among younger adults in Nigeria is important for many reasons, not least because they often care for older family members and live in multigenerational households. About one third of all Nigerians are between 10 and 24 years of age, according to recent UNFPA data, with an equal share below the age of 10. “Reach[ing]…our youth is critical to protecting all of Lagos from COVID-19,” says Kafayat Oluwatoyin Akinyemi, the MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity project team lead in Lagos state. Since September 2022 the project has provided technical assistance to five state governments in Nigeria, including Lagos, to increase COVID-19 vaccination.
In November 2022 MOMENTUM supported the Lagos State Primary Health Care Board in a Campus Storm immunization drive. During the event, the project team conducted community rallies and provided students with credible information to answer questions and address their concerns about COVID-19 vaccination.
“I loved the fact that my concerns were addressed by the mobile team… and I am assured that I am protected against severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19,” said Damilare, the theater arts student.
MOMENTUM mobilized Damilare and some of his peers, now armed with evidence-based information on the modes of COVID-19 transmission and measures to prevent it, to encourage their fellow students and families to get vaccinated.
“I am happy doing this for my fellow students. We are all exposed to misinformation [from social media] about the coronavirus so I say to them, ‘Please beware of the misinformation shared on social media platforms, they are not factual,’” said Damilare.
He strongly believes that students like him need more information about the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine. And he continues to engage students in creative ways using theater, dance, and spoken word to communicate information and change the perception of COVID-19 on campus.
With the support of mobile teams and champions like Damilare, MOMENTUM supported the vaccination of over 15,000 students across 10 universities in Lagos during the College Storm immunization drive in December 2022. As of June 2023, working with local partners including the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN) and the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), the MOMENTUM project has supported the vaccination of more than 974,000 people in Lagos State and more than 3.6 million people across the five project-supported states in Nigeria.
Damilare’s transformation from doubt to determination stands as a testament to the power of knowledge and advocacy. Since these mobilization efforts began in 2022, COVID-19 vaccination across project-supported states has increased by an average of 22 percent: prior to the campaign, about 1 in 4 people (26.5 percent) across the five states was vaccinated. The share rose to about 1 in 2 people (48.5 percent) after project intervention. As Damilare and his fellow campus champions break down information barriers and mobilize their generation, the effort to protect Lagos—and Nigeria—from COVID-19 gains strength.