Our take: The war for hearts and minds

From tomorrow ALL adult South Africans, 18 years and up, are eligible for vaccines. 😁 Incredible, right? Sadly, it’s happening against the backdrop of some terrible irony: we’ve been desperate for the vaccine rollout to happen – but now that it has, too many of us just aren’t showing up. 

It turned out the real fight wasn’t with big pharma or inept government strategies. It was over hearts and minds, and scepticism is winning this dangerous war. 

Only about 7% of the eligible population has been vaccinated to date, but many vaccine sites are deserted and the number of daily inoculations is dropping. Discovery says its daily vaccination rate has halved. 😳  

Survey after survey has shown that South Africans are hesitant. Interestingly enough, the latest one showed vaccine hesitancy is most pronounced among white adults. The proportion of black respondents willing to get a shot rose to 75%, from 69% in the previous survey, but among white adults it fell 4 percentage points, according to the latest in a series of surveys released this week by the University of Johannesburg together with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Government is concerned that this could spark a fourth wave and that it will not be able to meet its target of vaccinating at least 67% of the population by the end of the year. 

As one writer for The Guardian pointed out: “Vaccine rejection doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” Misinformation seems to be more compelling than the facts – and it’s spreading faster. 

According to the survey researchers: “Side effects and concerns that the vaccine will be ineffective are the most common self-reported explanations” for hesitancy. We’ve said it before, but one more time: vaccine side effects are minimal compared to the enormous risks associated with contracting Covid-19. Plus, arguments that the vaccine was “rushed” are completely unfounded. 

Only Limpopo appears to be making huge strides in its vaccine rollout, under its rather inspiring Health MEC, Dr Phophi Ramathuba. The province has the highest per capita vaccination rate in the country, and that’s thanks to its tailor-made approach of reaching out to the community through church leaders and traditional healers, while also using existing service delivery platforms, providing 3 000 points of contact to administer vaccines. The combination of winning over hearts and minds has been working perfectly for the province. We hope it inspires other parts of the country to do the same. 💫

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 19 August 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.