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 ‘vaxxed’ internationally. That is around the conversation of many people, not only in South Africa but across the world, getting vaccinated against Covid-19 – especially with the mutations that we are seeing. South Africa’s healthcare professionals need to be as protected as they can be.
So we are talking about hesitancy or misinformation, and those are the things [preventing] South Africans from getting the jab. We’ve got Dr Lesley Bamford, who’s a specialist at the National Department of Health to tell us more about this. Dr Bamford, thank you so much for your time this evening. This is a conversation that we have been having for months since the vaccine rollout started. It’s difficult to understand why there is still such a big block of misinformation or hesitancy among people to protect themselves, despite the scientific data that has subsequently been produced.
DR LESLEY BAMFORD: I think we would agree very much with that sentiment. We know when the vaccine rollout started we did have constraints in terms of the number of vaccines available. But increasingly we have enough vaccines. We have our vaccination sites open and, although many people are coming forward and being vaccinated, there are still many people who have not taken the step to be vaccinated.
Essentially we need to continuously engage with these people to give them more information and reassure them that the vaccines are safe.
ROFHIWA MADZENA: Would you say that there’s been a problem with the messaging around vaccinations from government and other stakeholders that has led to some of that information making the rounds on social media – and that has caused the hesitancy?
DR LESLEY BAMFORD: From our side, from government’s side, increasingly we are focused on demand generation, on communication, providing accurate and evidence-based information. We see increasingly that people want to hear the message from people that they know and trust. So we are trying to recruit as many advocates as possible.
However, we are up against a situation where there is a lot of misinformation circulating on social media and other platforms, and so we need to also work hard to try and counter that information.
ROFHIWA MADZENA: What are we looking like in terms of people who’ve been vaccinated so far? We’ve had our Vooma Vaccination Weekends that have been rolled out by government – has that helped at all in terms of getting more people jabbed?
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’ve been employing a number of demand acceleration strategies, including the Vooma Vaccination Weekends. During the Vooma Vaccination Weekends we really try and mobilise society, because this is something that is going to take action from everyone across society.
We try to mobilise people and leaders to encourage people in their sectors to vaccinate. We also keep more of our vaccination sites open over the weekend, and just encourage people to come forward and vaccinate.
We have had some success in increasing the numbers through the Vooma Vaccination Weekends, but they’re still not up to the numbers that we really need to be ensuring that we reach, [to ensure] adequate coverage that will allow us to feel that South Africans are protected and that we can start opening society and the economy.
ROFHIWA MADZENA: President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned the task team that will look at vaccine mandates into some activities in some spaces. Your thoughts on that and how long it’s expected that the task team will work before any final decisions on vaccine mandates are made?
DR LESLEY BAMFORD: I don’t think we have clarity about the timelines currently. Until now we’ve really tried to encourage people to be vaccinated by helping them understand the value of getting vaccinated. However, given the current coverage, increasingly government and other stakeholders are considering vaccine mandates – a peculiarly complicated issue that needs to be looked at from a number of different perspectives.
But, as you correctly said, a task team will be put together and they will be looking at the issue very closely and making recommendations.
This article first appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission. Read the original article here.