February Round-up: Controversies on COVID-19 Vaccines, Cures Debunked, Minister-Designate Fact-Checked

Fact-Check Ghana kicked off February 2021, by fact-checking concerns and controversies that surrounded COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana in our COVID-19: Tackling the Confusion, Controversies Around Vaccines report. Some teething questions that needed answers included; eligibilities, the extent the vaccines prevent infections, whether there are notable side effects, and generally, the safety of the vaccines.

The team did this by sourcing credible information from scientists and institutions accredited to produce vaccines and distribute. Andrea Taylor, an assistant director at Duke Global Health Innovation Center noted explicitly that “this idea that no one is safe until everyone is safe is not just an adage, it is really true. Our immune system stores information about every germ ever defeated. We sometimes call this immunological memory,” said Taylor, refuting claims that not everyone needed a vaccine

The US Center for Disease Control also explained that some antibodies remain ‘on patrol’ in our bloodstream for long.  The need for a vaccine is further boosted so that if our bodies ever encounter the real germ in the future, the immune system can quickly trigger the memory cells and produce antibodies to defeat it; thus vaccines were needed as a public health tool.

Ghana’s social media space close to the end of January 2021, was flooded with claims that the Nibima Herbal medicine has been approved by the Food and Drugs Authority as cure for the novel Coronavirus. Fact Check Ghana under the headline COVID-19: FDA Has NOT Approved Nibima as Cure debunked these claims following a press released by the FDA on February 1. Below is are portions of the report issued by the FDA which did not categorically state or suggest that Nibima Herbal Medicine had been approved for use as cure for COVID-19 in Ghana.

“On Monday, February 1, 2021, the FDA issued a press statement indicating that the Authority and the National Medicine Regulatory Agency (NMRA) have “approved Cryptolepis Sanguinolenta, locally known as Nibima for clinical trials” on COVID-19. The statement was released following a clinical trial application that was submitted by researchers from the School of Public Health of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

This was after the School had conducted a laboratory study on herbal medicine and found results that necessitate the need for a clinical trial. The statement concluded that the FDA hopes “data from the study [the clinical trial] may be useful to inform policy or be used for scientific judgment and opinions in relation to COVID-19”.

Leader of the Action Chapel International, Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams, got the internet talking when pictures of him wearing double masks during the funeral of former President Jerry John Rawlings surfaced on social media platforms, generating a lot of conversations especially about his faith in God.

During Sunday, January 31, 2020, sermon, the Archbishop noted that wearing double nose masks “had to do with common sense.”

Fact-check Ghana in its report “Does Wearing More Than One Mask at a Time Make You Safer?” explored the safety of wearing double mask in the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.

Face masks have become very essential protective wear since the COVID-19 pandemic began, having been recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Centre for Disease Controls (CDCs) across the world. According to scientists, nose masks protect healthy people from inhaling infectious aerosols (droplets) as well as reducing the spread of the virus from infected persons.

Following the mutation of the virus which has made it more infectious and transmissible (explained in detail in an earlier report), wearing nose masks has become extremely crucial. Indeed, in recent weeks, a growing number of public figures including football coaches and politicians have been spotted wearing double masks.

Is there a need to double masks?

A biosecurity expert who researches mask effectiveness at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Raina MacIntyre, said “yes, in theory, two is better than one, and three is even better”. In a study, Raina MacIntyre found that adding a nylon layer or a second layer can improve a mask’s ability to filter out small particles or aerosols in the air by creating a tighter seal between the mask and the wearer’s face.

Also, February saw ministerial nominees come before the Appointments Committee of Parliament for scrutiny ahead of their confirmations as ministers. One of such nominees was Ignatius Baffour Awuah, minister-designate for the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations. He took his turn on February 17, 2020, during which he made claims about the unemployment rate in Ghana which he pegged at 7.1% in 2019, from 11.9% in 2015, referencing the Ghana Living Standard Survey (GLSS).

A report produced by Factcheck Ghana revealed otherwise. The team noted that, according to the GLSS 6, released in 2014 and not in 2015 as the minister claims, unemployment rate was 5.2% in Ghana. The report states on page 57 that “The unemployment rate for persons aged 15 years and older is 5.2 percent; the rate is higher for females (5.5%) than for males (4.8%).”

The team further realised that GLSS 7, released in 2019, the unemployment rate rose to 8.4%. The report states on page 90 that “the total unemployment rate for Ghana is 8.4 percent; the rate is higher among females (9.2%) than males (7.5%).” This is contrasted with the minister-designate’s claim that of 7.1%.

Mr. Awuah also claimed some 3,000 jobs were lost as a result of the clean-up of the banking sector. The financial sector restructuring, also known as the banking sector clean-up, led to five local banks—Unibank, Beige Bank, The Royal Bank, Construction and Sovereign— being declared insolvent. The banks were collapsed and merged into the Consolidated Bank Ghana Ltd. (CBG).

Factcheck Ghana in tracking the direct job losses following the sector clean-up could account for over 6,000. This is consistent with findings from other institutions like iwatch Africa.

On health, Ghana’s Ministry of Health announced on February 20, 2021, that it has authorised the registration and use of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V under the emergency use authorisation procedure. In a statement released on the website of the developers of the Vaccine, the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, said:

“Ministry of Health of Ghana has thoroughly reviewed the data on safety and efficacy of Sputnik V also proven by publication in The Lancet and approved the use of the vaccine. This is another positive example of vaccine cooperation between Russia and partners across the world to save lives and protect the population.”

Following this announcement, Factcheck Ghana reviewed publications about the Sputnik V vaccine focusing on clinical research of the vaccine, its effectiveness, and approvals and objections it has received.

Factcheck Ghana rounded up the month of February, by fact-checking a WhatsApp message announcing that February 22-28 have been set as ‘World Covid-19 Elimination Day.”

The message which had gone viral also indicated that doctors have advised a mass inhalation of “vapour” to eliminate potential coronavirus hidden within the sinus area of the respiratory system. It further claimed the effectiveness of the inhaling exercise lied in it being carried out at the same time, hence February 22-28 selected for the exercise. It listed menthol, ginger, and boiled water among the ingredients needed to undertake this self-medication.

“To make this action more effective, everyone had to do it within the same period of time. So, the week of February 22nd to 28th, 2021 has been chosen for the first vapour inhalation campaign. Every evening (or any other free time on your schedule) boil basil and ginger in 2 liters of water (2 mins), incorporate 1 teaspoon full of lemon juice, and inhale the vapour for 5-10 minutes. If you do not have the above-mentioned ingredients, you’ll just need to incorporate 1 tablespoonful of menthol (eg. Vicks),” the message claimed.

Factcheck-Ghana verified the claim by interviewing the Director of Public Health at the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Badu Sarkodie, who debunked the claim saying:

“There is nothing like that and we have not sighted that from any of the accredited experts globally. We have not seen any publication from the peer review sources.”

The monthly fact-checked round-ups are part of a project supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

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