Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla on Tuesday raised concerns about the proliferation of fake news and conspiracy theories on social media about Covid-19 vaccines, saying government is working to counter the negative stories about the jabs.
“What we accept is the fact that there is a very strong and fairly orchestrated and organised fake news campaign to discredit vaccinations. And unfortunately, in some cases we have found even people who are health professionals who are also part of this,” Phaahla said.
He was briefing, virtually, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on government’s national vaccination programme.
The minister said in order to counter fake news about vaccines, the Department of Health was working with the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) to improve its communication strategy using various mediums in order to reach citizens who are hesitant to receive their inoculation.
“We are working on a daily basis on this and also responding directly to some of these fake news and threats,” he said.
Covid conspiracy theories
Phaahla said one of the most shocking claims he saw was that all people who had received their jabs would die in two years’ time.
He said this was not true as data showed that vaccines were effective in preventing severe illness and deaths among Covid-19 patients, especially among healthcare workers and teachers who were part of the first cohort to get vaccinated.
Phaahla also agreed with some MPs that the country’s law-enforcement agencies should investigate whether some of the fake news were in contravention of the SA’s laws.
“In the [Disaster Management Act] regulations there is clearly a provision which says circulating fake news is actually a criminal offence. I think working with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and other law enforcement agencies we’re going to have to look at that,” he said.
“Some of those are on video [and] it shouldn’t be difficult to identify the culprits.”
SA has enough vaccines for September
As government continues to encourage more adult citizens to get vaccinated, Phaahla assured MPs that there was sufficient stock of vaccines available for September.
“As of now what I can assure the honourable members is that we do have adequate stock of the vaccines. There was just a week when the delivery from both Johnson & Johnson [J&J] and Pfizer went down and we had a bit of a challenge. But as things stand, we have enough stock to vaccinate for the whole of September,” he said.
South Africa is currently administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and J&J’s single shot, which have been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) for emergency use.
Phaahla also said there were enough vaccine stocks coming in the next few weeks.
He said the total number of doses expected from J&J was 31 million and government had already received just over one million.
Government had received 20.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is administered twice. The total number of Pfizer vaccines donated by the US government stood at 10.7 million.
Phaahla said: “Every time we sit with stock of just over five million doses of vaccines. Except for the one week where there was a bit of a challenge. Generally, stock levels are no more a challenge for us.”
The minister said the availability of vaccines was the reason why government had allowed all adults 18 years old and above to register to get their Covid-19 shots before September.