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Pastor Chris Oyakhilome’s Anti-Vaccine Messages Threaten Africa’s Health – BBC Finds

A famous African preacher, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, has been spreading doubts about vaccines, especially the new malaria vaccine being distributed across Africa. The BBC looked into dozens of his sermons from the past two years and found messages discouraging people from getting vaccinated.

This is a serious concern because malaria is a massive problem in Africa. In 2022, most malaria deaths, about 95%, happened there, with most victims being young children under five. A new vaccine offered hope to change this, but Pastor Chris’ messages could discourage people from getting it.

The pastor even made videos promoting his anti-vaccine ideas and showed them during church services or on his streaming platform. These videos escaped the usual social media filters against false vaccine information.

Experts say his influential voice could have devastating consequences. People trust Pastor Chris, and his words could lead them to refuse the life-saving vaccine.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is worried. They mentioned Pastor Chris’ remarks in a report about possible problems with the malaria vaccine rollout. The BBC tried to contact Pastor Chris for comment but did not receive a response.

Pastor Chris is the founder of a large church in Nigeria and has millions of followers worldwide. His church runs a variety of businesses, including TV stations and a streaming service.

Winnifred Ikhianosin, a regular church attender, said

She trusts Pastor Chris and won’t get vaccinated. Experts say Pastor Chris has a powerful hold on his followers, and this, combined with poverty and lack of healthcare access in Africa, makes people more likely to listen to him over health officials.

Another target of Pastor Chris’ attacks is Bill Gates, a big supporter of the malaria vaccine. The pastor twists Gates’ words to fit his conspiracy theories, like claiming Gates wants to reduce the world’s population with vaccines. This is not true.

Pastor Chris has also spread false information about other vaccines, including those for HPV and tetanus. In the past, his church was fined for spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

People who know Pastor Chris say his influence is dangerous and that there should be ways to hold him accountable for his words.

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