Community leaders take the lead in tackling COVID-19 vaccine skepticism in Lagos State

To increase the uptake of COVID-19 vaccine in Lagos State, UNICEF is supporting community leaders to drive the campaign against vaccine hesitancy in Nigeria’s largest city

Blessing Ejiofor, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A woman walking on the street
23 March 2021

Lagos, 23 March 2021 - Sixty-nine-year-old Modeenat Abike Onike and 32-year-old Fasasi Musa Olalekan may be generations apart, but they are united by a common goal: to remove obstacles to COVID-19 vaccine uptake by community members in Shomolu- Bariga district of Lagos State.

Modeenat is a veteran market women’s leader, who has been going from shop to shop to convince other market women that COVID-19 is real and of the importance of the vaccine to help stop the spread of the virus.

‘’I can easily tell when the women lack confidence in something, which is different from when they lack information. Most women in this market do not believe COVID-19 exists,” said Modeenat.

In order to convince the women that taking the vaccine is safe, she works to dispel myths and rumors around its safety. “I will take the vaccine together with every member of my family,” she tells them.

Women in the market

To address some of the bottlenecks to COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Lagos, UNICEF - in collaboration with the State Primary Healthcare Board - has embarked on raising awareness among community members. The campaign targets traditional and community leaders who can influence their friends and neighbours to take the vaccine across Lagos. 

“These community leaders are pivotal for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the state,” said Dr. Ijeoma Agbo, UNICEF Health Specialist. “They spend time mobilizing, convincing and enlightening community members on the safety and importance of getting vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.”.

When Fasasi Olalekan, an influential youth leader, arrived at a community stakeholders meeting, he was a COVID-19 vaccination skeptic. Like most youths in his district, he believed the vaccine was a ploy by the West to control populations in Africa.

“What we read on WhatsApp and other social media platforms about the vaccine is scary,” he said.

A man wearing a facemask
A man talking to a crowd

However, new information brought about a change of heart, and midway through the meeting, Fasasi declared he was ready to take the COVID-19 vaccine when available for his age group.

“I will also mobilize our youths via the same social media platforms where we received the myths and rumors that made us afraid of the vaccine,” he said.

As a leader in a district with a youth population of over 250,000, his opinions carry weight with young people, and his influential voice is now helping spread the message that vaccines are safe – thereby putting Lagos more firmly on the path to defeating the global pandemic.