Friday, January 21

Hesitation or misinformation: what stops citizens from taking the hit?

ROFHIWA MADZENA: Vaccines: that has been the big word of the year. In fact, ‘vaccination’ was the word of the year in South Africa, and I think ‘vaccinated’ internationally. That revolves around the conversation of many people, not just in South Africa but around the world, getting vaccinated against Covid-19, especially now with the advent of the mutations that we are seeing. South African healthcare professionals should be as protected as possible.

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So we are talking about hesitation or misinformation, and those are the things [preventing] South Africans don’t stop to get the jab. We have Dr. Lesley Bamford, specialist from the National Department of Health, to tell us more about this. Dr. Bamford, thank you very much for your time tonight. This is a conversation that we have had for months since the launch of the vaccine began. It is difficult to understand why there is still such a large block of misinformation or hesitancy among people to protect themselves, despite the scientific data that has subsequently been produced.

DR LESLEY BAMFORD: Well, good night and good night to the listeners. I think we would very much agree with that sentiment. We know that when the launch of the vaccine began, we were limited in the number of vaccines available. But every time we have enough vaccines. We have our vaccination sites open and while many people are reaching out and getting vaccinated, there are still many people who have not taken the step of getting vaccinated.

Essentially, we need to continually engage with these people to provide them with more information and to assure them that vaccines are safe.

ROFHIWA MADZENA: Would you say that there has been a problem with the messages about vaccines from the government and other stakeholders that has led to some of that information circulating on social media, and that has caused hesitation?

DR LESLEY BAMFORD: On our side, on the government side, we increasingly focus on demand generation, communication, providing accurate and evidence-based information. We see more and more that people want to hear the message of people they know and trust. That is why we are trying to recruit as many defenders as possible.

However, we are faced with a situation where a lot of misinformation is circulating on social media and other platforms, so we must also work hard to try and counter that information.

ROFHIWA MADZENA: How do we see ourselves, Dr. Bamford, in terms of people who have been vaccinated so far? We have had our Vooma vaccination weekends which have been implemented by the government.

DR LESLEY BAMFORD: Last week we crossed the milestone of having delivered 25 million doses of the vaccine. This means that just over 40% of adults in South Africa are vaccinated. We have been employing a number of demand acceleration strategies, including Vooma vaccination weekends. During Vooma vaccination weekends, we really try to mobilize society, because this is something that is going to take action on the part of everyone in society.

We try to mobilize people and leaders to encourage people in their sectors to get vaccinated. We also keep more of our vaccination sites open over the weekend, and we only encourage people to come forward and get vaccinated.

We have had some success in increasing the numbers during Vooma vaccination weekends, but they are still not quite up to the numbers we really need to ensure we achieve adequate coverage that allows us to feel that South Africans are protected and that we can start to open up the society and the economy.

ROFHIWA MADZENA: One last thought from you, doctor, very briefly. President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned or announced the task force that will be in charge of analyzing the vaccine mandates in some activities in some spaces. Your thoughts on that and how long is that task force expected to work before final decisions are made on vaccine mandates?

DR LESLEY BAMFORD: I don’t think we are clear on the timelines currently. So far, we’ve really tried to encourage people to get vaccinated by helping them understand the value of getting vaccinated. However, given the current coverage, more and more government and other stakeholders are considering vaccine mandates, a particularly complicated issue that must be analyzed from several different perspectives.

But, as you have correctly said, a task force will be formed that will analyze the problem very closely and make recommendations.

ROFHIWA MADZENA: Shiny. Thank you very much, Dr. Lesley Bamford. She is a specialist at the National Department of Health, and she talks to us about vaccinating vaccinations and the information that generally circulates on social media and the people we associate with.

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