[imagesource: Reuters / Dado Ruvic]
The South African public’s response to the COVID-19 ‘journey’ thus far has taken many twists and turns.
The initial lockdown period was generally well-received, although the ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco immediately caused anger.
Then there was the outrage surrounding the looting of the funds allocated to various forms of COVID-19 relief, as our healthcare workers battled the spread of the pandemic with insufficient PPE and funding.
There is no need to revisit the entire road thus far, but the response to the rapid development of a vaccine is perhaps the most bemusing.
Rampant misinformation surrounding the vaccine, with Bill Gates dragged into the mix, did the rounds, but the general feeling was ‘hurry up with a vaccine so our lives may return to normal’.
Now, with vaccines rolling out across the world, the same folks are saying ‘Nah, that was too quick, I don’t trust the vaccine’.
There really is no winning with some people.
A recent survey found that around half of this country said they would refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, which is hugely problematic when you consider that roughly 67% of South Africans, or 40 million, will need to be vaccinated in order to achieve the required immunity.
Some high-profile figures, such as Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, and former ANC MP Tony Yengeni, have spoken out against taking the vaccine, and it’s certainly easy enough to understand why many don’t trust the current government to run the rollout efficiently.
After all, vaccinating 40 million people requires 80 million doses (two per person), and will take a mammoth effort of incredibly complex proportions.
Via The Daily Maverick, here’s just a sample:
For this to happen over a 12-month period, it will require about 6,300 full-time vaccinators injecting 50 people a day. Medical and nursing students and “other cadres” may be drafted in to give jabs. At present, the plan lacks timeframes and other concrete details. What gives some health experts encouragement, however, is the mooted involvement of private medical schemes.
The use of the word ‘cadres’ should be avoided, because it’s become synonymous with looting in recent years.
All things going to plan, the vaccine rollout would be as follows:
Given that there is such a high level of mistrust, which could undermine the efficacy of the vaccine rollout process, The Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis asked the country’s leading healthcare experts if they should be made mandatory.
After all, one cannot ‘opt-out’ of the current lockdown measures, but taking such a step could well further erode the public’s trust.
Here’s what some of the experts said when canvassed by Davis.
Medical Research Council president Glenda Gray:
“I think there should be opt-out [options], but I am sure it will become a requirement for travel or for certain jobs.”
Professor Francois Venter, director of Ezintsha:
“My public health side wants to say yes, but lots of studies show it doesn’t work making them mandatory. Also, I think it’s unnecessary: education and careful explanation is enough…”
Dr Jeremy Nel, head of infectious diseases at Helen Joseph Hospital:
“No, I don’t. It’s not that I don’t support vaccination 100% (I absolutely do) but the blowback from making it mandatory would probably be counterproductive. I’d much rather we try to aggressively and proactively win over anyone who is hesitant to take a vaccine instead.”
Wits vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi:
“No – I think it would create more scepticism and would not improve uptake. We could, however, create ‘enablers’ to encourage vaccination.”
In short, the experts tend to agree that making vaccines mandatory would be a misstep.
It’s worth noting that a vaccine may be a prerequisite for those who want to travel abroad, and employers could also legally require their employees to be vaccinated, which could also result in a higher uptake.
Ultimately, it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince the majority of South Africans to receive the vaccine, if and when we actually manage to procure the required number.
Perhaps our failure to act quickly in securing vaccines may provide the time needed to win over sceptics, but that’s no excuse for our government’s shortcomings thus far on that front.
Sadly, we are still a long, long way from winning the battle against COVID-19.
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