[imagesource: The University of Witwatersrand]
Millions of South Africans remain apprehensive about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and that’s their right.
Hopefully, through credible information and the stories of countless others who came to regret that decision too late, we will see a steady rise in the number of South Africans who opt to get the jab.
The real uphill battle, and it’s the same battle that has been waged since the start of the pandemic, is against misinformation.
With the click of a mouse, or the tap of a phone screen, patently false and potentially deadly misinformation does the rounds, and Anena Burger can attest to that.
Burger, a journalist for Netwerk24 (the Afrikaans News24), says her 70-year-old mother Hermine was sent a voicenote on WhatsApp, and listened “out of curiosity”.
News24 reporting below:
In a 14-minute monologue, a woman tells a frightening tale of the supposed dangers of the Covid-19 vaccine in Afrikaans, interspersing her talk with easily rebuttable inaccuracies.
Her daughter, Netwerk24 and Volksblad journalist Anena Burger, said that her parents decided against their Covid-19 vaccinations after listening to the message in June.
She tried to talk them around and point out the inaccuracies in the voice note, but says: “When my mother says it’s no, it is no.”
Tragically, Hermine later contracted COVID-19, and died on July 9.
Consider stories like that of Dr. Marc Mendelson, who said last week that he had not seen a single vaccinated person in his high care ward at Groote Schuur Hospital.
This is a life-saving vaccine, proven time and time again, but for many, the realisation comes too late.
Hermine and her husband, Willem, were deterred from getting the vaccine by the multiple false claims made in the voicenote:
In the message, the woman eases into the topic of Covid-19 vaccinations by revisiting the Thalidomide catastrophe of the 1950s and 1960s, where a medication to ease morning sickness led to babies being born with shortened limbs.
She moves on to false claims that the Covid-19 vaccine causes HIV, and wrongly claims that the antibodies multiply to the extent that they take over the body and cause fatal Covid-19…
In an alarming climax to her voice note, she claims that the Covid-19 vaccine is a plot for mass murder.
Those claims are laughable to many of us, but Burger says her parents are not internet savvy, and “come from a generation where they believed the information that was presented to them”.
After her mother passed away, Burger and Netwerk24 tracked down the woman behind the voicenote, a primary school teacher in Pretoria who goes by several names.
A complaint was made to the police regarding the voicenote, which Western Cape police spokesperson Colonel Andre Traut said was under investigation.
When confronted at the school where she teaches (the principal said she was quite “vocal”), the teacher said she was only sharing information that was already on the internet.
It’s one thing sharing a fake, unverified voicenote about an impending alcohol sales ban (I’m sure the South African liquor industry thanks you), but it’s an entirely different story when you share misinformation that can, and has, led to avoidable deaths.
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