From anti-vaxxer propaganda to fear, South Africans need more information about the COVID-19 vaccine if we are to reach herd immunity.
CAPE TOWN – The South African Medical Association (Sama) this week stressed that misinformation, anti-vaxxer propaganda, recent riots and fears of side effects have not helped efforts to boost the country’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
Officials hope to innoculate 28 million people by the end of this year. But so far, people 10 million have received their first jabs and only four million (10.5% of the population) have been fully vaccinated. To reach herd immunity in South Africa’s 59 million population, more than 40 million people need to be completely vaccinated.
With the possibility of a fourth wave of infections at the end of the year, government and health workers are concerned.
Sama’s Angelique Coetzee told Eyewitness News that fewer people turning up at innoculation sites were being caused by negative publicity about the vaccines as well as anti-vaxxer views. But the issue was also compounded by recent events in the country.
“One of the problems, especially in KwaZulu-Natal would have been the riots. Once you lose momentum, it’s difficult to get the people back,” Coetzee said.
She said that people needed to be educated regarding immunisation, its safety and side effects.
“People went for vaccines, and two or three days later they got COVID-19 and erroneously blamed the vaccine for their getting COVID-19. There needs to be much better communication around that.”
Government’s initial daily target was 300,000 vaccines, which increased it to 400,000.
But in the past two to three weeks, innoculations have averaged at around 150,000 per day. The numbers were even lower on weekends prompting the addition of more sites for greater convenience.
In a desperate bid to increase awareness around the safety of vaccines and dispel costly myths, officials will Wednesday hold a webinar alongside the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to help the public understand the safety of innoculation.
The Health Department’s Dr Nicholas Crisp said that the public was becoming apathetic, and momentum was also lost at some innoculation sites due to last month’s vaccine supply shortage.
“The second reason is because people are getting a bit complacent and it’s very difficult for us to get messages to everybody, so we are relooking at how we do all of our messaging.”
Government is growing increasingly concerned about the slow uptake after some promise last month when the 35 to 49 age group registered in droves. But the 12 million-strong age group has wavering interest.
“We have almost 3.1 million registered now in that age bracket and vaccinations done so far is 2.39 million,” said Crisp.
Before this, the programme was opened to health workers, people over 60, police, teachers and other frontline workers.
Sama said only 2% of the first 288,000 healthcare workers who were vaccinated experienced adverse side effects. Of the 50 healthcare workers who suffered serious side effects from the first batch vaccinations, 12 were allergic reactions, 12 others contracted the virus within 28 days after being jabbed. while another 6 had neurological conditions.
“Go and vaccinate. Your chances are so low to get a reaction, and as we have said, of that 2%, with one death, there’s no comparison,” Coetzee said.
The low rate of severe side effects was proof that the vaccine was safe, said Coetzee, and that people should not fear getting the shot as authorities warn of a possible fourth wave later in the year.
“We’re not going to skip or miss the fourth wave. It’s going to come and it’s not a conspiracy theory. End of November, beginning of December… It is based on what we know and what we have seen in trends in other countries.”
Registration for the 18- to 34-year age group is set to open in two weeks. Authorities hope that enthusiasm levels will rise again and inch South Africa closer to the vaccination target.
Article written by: Lizell Persens
Photo credit: The Citizen