Barriers to Covid-19 vaccination in South Africa: How do we fix it?

by Kuhle Mcinga

Covid-19 has been considered a public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) for well over a year. The ever-changing lockdowns and travel bans have created a lot of uncertainty and anxiety.

The development of Covid-19 vaccines has given hope to those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed. However, as the number of vaccines available and their distribution expands, tensions are escalating. Vaccination nationalisation, where wealthier countries hoard vaccines, inequitable vaccine access, and vaccine hesitancy are amongst them.

Vaccine-hesitancy is not a new phenomenon and South Africa is no exception. Several factors influence vaccine acceptance these include political factors, educational access, geographical location to name just a few. According to a survey performed by the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) to assess public awareness and views regarding the pandemic and vaccines. People residing in cities are more willing to take the vaccines (79%) than those in villages (69%). Employed people (72%) are more likely to get the vaccine than students (61%), and residents of the Eastern Cape (98%) and Limpopo (81%) provinces are more eager to get the vaccine than those in the Western Cape (68%).

So, how then do we fix this, how do we get more people vaccinated? By making use of: (a) Community involvement, building trust incommunity-based leaders and networks because civil society, such as religious and cultural leaders, may be able to influence community acceptance of the vaccine. An example would be the Eastern Cape and Limpopo vaccination campaigns that involved cultural and church leaders, both provinces have the highest percentage of adults with at least one dose. (b) Increasing weekend vaccination sites, weekend vaccinations will be more convenient for those who are working or studying. (c) Having more transparency from the government through communication campaigns in all official languages of the country. They should be clear on what people can expect from the vaccine by putting potential side effects in context, explaining that these side effects are due to an expected immune response, which implies that the vaccine has been recognized by the body. A  communication campaign has been done before to promote AIDS-free living amongst South Africans through programmes such as LOVELIFE South Africa when there was ARV hesitancy, it worked and there is no reason why it should not be done again for Covid-19 vaccines.

References

  1. Cooper, S ., van Rooyen, H., & Shey Wiysonge, C. (2021) COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in South Africa: how can we maximize uptake of COVID-19 vaccines? Expert Review of Vaccines, https://doi.org/10.1080/14760584.2021.1949291
  2. Burger, R., Maughan-Brown, M., Kohler, T., English, R., & Tameris , M. (2021) Increased openness to accepting a COVID-19 vaccine is a shot in the arm for South Africa: Evidence from the NIDS-CRAM Wave 5 Survey. https://cramsurvey.org/reports/

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