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REPORT: Debunking COVID-19 misinformation from the pulpit

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By Emiene Odaudu-Erame

“There are some places you enter, you come out, you could have been infected but your immunity had been built. Now taking the vaccine kills all that.”


These words were part of a sermon on April 21 2021, by Pastor Joy Amenkhinian a pastor with Christ Embassy, Benin in a lunch hour service where she preached against taking the Covid 19 vaccine.

In that sermon, she claimed that taking the Covid 19 vaccine kills off every other immunity the human body has and protects only against Covid 19.


The sermon in which she made these comments was shared across different social media platforms and was streamed live on her Facebook fan page which has eleven thousand followers. The video had 106, 000 views and 779 comments and 1,900 likes. Commenting on the video was later turned off by an administrator of the page.


Pastor Amenkhinian took out about 10 minutes in her one hour twenty-one -minute sermon to make false claims about Covid-19 vaccines.

Among three key issues she raised are that the vaccine ‘kills’ off every other immunity in the human body and leaves anyone who takes the vaccine vulnerable to other infections; that Covid Vaccine has not been tested and is already being administered on people and that the vaccines has an expiry date; the last which is not necessarily false as all foods and drugs have expiry dates.

However, that information, it would seem, was added to help stoke public fear about the vaccines.


Pastor Amenkhinian’s comments are not isolated however as the President and Founder of the Church, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, a leading Pentecostal cleric in Nigeria has consistently made false and contentious claims about Covid 19, that include questioning its existence and challenging public health measures to mitigate its spread.

For example, Pastor Oyakhilome has often called on churches not to allow themselves to be labelled Covid 19 compliant or Covid free churches suggesting that Jesus cannot be present in such a church.
He has also often strongly criticized such Covid 19 public health mitigating measures, particularly the wearing of masks and social distancing.

Perhaps, one of the more outrageous efforts at disinformation is the claim that Covid vaccine is a way of compelling people to use 5G technology thereby making it easy to get the mark of the beast.


All of Pastor Oyakhilome’s messages, including sermons are streamed live on the 7 television channels run by the church and on its Youtube channel to it approximately 13, 000, 000 members and others who may be interested.

They are also extensively disseminated through Social Media platforms. Thus Pastor Amenkhinian’s anti-Covid sermons are not isolated as she and perhaps other clerics of the church are advancing the views of the founder of the church.


But is there any scientific basis to these claims which appears pervasive in Nigeria’s Pentecostal community?
DOES THE VACCINE KILL OFF EVERY OTHER IMMUNITY IN THE HUMAN BODY AND LEAVE ANYONE WHO TAKES THE VACCINE VULNERABLE TO OTHER INFECTIONS?


No, this is a false claim.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) in an explainer on its site about how safe the Vaccine is said
“Some COVID-19 vaccines have been developed with an approach that uses messenger Ribonucliec Acid (mRNA).

The mRNA vaccine technology has been studied for over a decade, including in the development of vaccines for Zika, rabies and influenza.


These mRNA vaccines have been rigorously assessed for safety, and clinical trials have shown that they provide a long-lasting immune response. mRNA vaccines are not live virus vaccines and do not interfere with human DNA.


The explainer went on to say that “After a COVID-19 vaccine is introduced, WHO supports work with vaccine manufacturers, health officials in each country and other partners to monitor for any safety concerns on an ongoing basis”.


The United States Centre for Disease Control is even more specific, information on its site says “COVID-19 vaccines teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

It typically takes 2 weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19.”


An expert on immunization and Health Financing Dr Shola Dele-Olowu said “Covid vaccines like other vaccines do not “strip” immunity.

Instead, they provide immunity against the diseases they target. “For example,” she added for emphasis, “measles vaccine protects children against measles disease, hepatitis B vaccines protect against Hep B disease and Covid Vaccine against Covid disease.


THE COVID VACCINE HAS NOT BEEN TESTED AND IT IS ALREADY BEEN ADMINISTERED TO PEOPLE.
This is also another false claim.


Again, the WHO in an explainer said “All of the approved COVID-19 vaccines have been carefully tested and continue to be monitored.”


According to the world health body, over 300 million doses have been administered to 150 million people as of March 2021. The WHO said “Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines go through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large clinical trials that involve tens of thousands of people.

These trials are specifically designed to identify any safety concerns.


An external panel of experts convened by WHO analyses the results from clinical trials and recommends whether and how the vaccines should be used. Officials in individual countries decide whether to approve the vaccines for national use and develop policies for how to use the vaccines based on WHO recommendations.”


DOES THE COVID VACCINE HAVE AN EXPIRY DATE AND ARE VACCINES MEANT TO HAVE EXPIRY DATES?
Dr Dele-Olowu who is a deputy director at Clinton Health Access Initiative said “Vaccines like all medicines have expiry dates. Health workers administer vaccines before they expire.”

The country has a system of retrieving all vaccines from health facilities when they are close to expiry and destroying them when they expire. She explained further that “all drugs have expiry, so do foods that we eat and processed drinks. So even if someone says it has expiry dates it should not be a problem.


Pastor Joy apart from stoking public sentiments about vaccines also admonished her congregation to continue to preach to those who have taken vaccines and not to give up on them. There by implying that taking the vaccine is some kind of sin and making it known that the unofficial church policy is anti-vaccine


This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s African Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Center for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Center for Investigative Reporting  (ICIR) and Africa Uncensored.

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