For many South Africans, especially those aged 35-49, this is the week where they get the long-awaited jab.
After vaccination registration opened up last week (here’s a step-by-step guide on how to register, and how to book a slot), acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced that South Africa saw a million vaccination registrations in under 24 hours.
Kubayi-Ngubane said that was a record, and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) researcher Jabu Mtsweni said by Friday morning, there had been seven million registrations.
Over in the US, according to Our World In Data, more than 160 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, which is around half of the population.
Despite the fact that this life-saving vaccine is readily available, and despite the fact that unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths, there is still a great deal of hesitancy.
Worse still, millions and millions of Americans believe completely unhinged conspiracy theories, with social media companies failing dismally to curb the spread of dangerous misinformation.
Consider this, from VICE:
A fifth of Americans believe that it is “very true” or “probably true” that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips as part of a covert government-led population control plan.
That is the shocking finding of a new survey conducted by YouGov for the Economist and published this week. The survey asked respondents if “the U.S. government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip the population.” In response, 5 percent of those asked said the statement was “very true” while another 15 percent said it was “probably true.”
Yup, around 42 million adult Americans believe the pandemic was cooked up by the government, with the help of Bill Gates, to implant trackable microchips inside of them.
When somebody’s beliefs are that far gone, how do you even start bringing them back to the real world?
It’s easy to debunk and ridicule theories like those of Ohio physician Sherri Tenpenny, who claimed that vaccines made people magnetic, but people have long since dug their heels in and refuse to believe the experts, trusting a grainy, forwarded, anonymous WhatsApp message instead.
One of the primary reasons people are so hesitant to get vaccinated is obvious: Anti-vax misinformation, boosted by GOP lawmakers in many cases, has been allowed to spread unchecked on social media platforms for the last 18 months.
And despite promises from companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, efforts to stop the spread of disinformation have been abysmal.
As we have learnt with the rampant spread of misinformation over the past week or so, people are far more willing to hit ‘forward’ than they are to try and verify the information they have just received.
I don’t know what the cure for that is, but all of us need to start playing an active role in pushing back on this sort of thing, starting with WhatsApp friends and family groups, and on social media.
Of course, in the US, there’s a sharp political divide, with the YouGov poll showing that 32% of Republicans believed the microchip conspiracy was “very” or “probably” true, compared to 14% of Democrats.
We can’t fix that mess, but we can all play an active role in trying to ensure that South Africans listen to credible information, rather than fearmongering and nonsense.
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