National Immunisation Safety Expert Committee (NISEC) chairperson Professor Hannelie Meyer says the main reason South Africans are hesitant to get vaccinated against Covid-19 is because of safety worries – and she blames social media.
“In my opinion this is fuelled by all the misinformation that is being spread, mostly on social media,” Meyer said on Algoa FM on Thursday.
She said the conspiracy theories started as soon as the world became aware of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When we look at the most recent survey, it says 71% of South Africans will accept the Covid-19 vaccine, but that acceptance doesn’t translate into actually going to get the vaccine.”
Meyer said South Africans who are worried about getting vaccinated needed to weigh the benefits against the risks.
“People are scared of possible adverse events and side effects. But if you look at the minute chance of you experiencing an adverse event against the chances of you getting infected with Covid-19 and developing severe [symptoms]… those are the things you need to weigh up.”
People also need to consider the long-term effects of being infected with Covid-19, also known as long Covid, said Meyer.
“There’s evidence now that up to about 30% of people who had Covid-19 suffer with these long-term effects and we don’t know yet how long these effects continue and how to manage them.”
Meyer said complacency was also a factor in vaccine hesitancy.
“Some people think I’m not at risk or I’ve had Covid-19 already and I won’t get it again.”
Regarding fears around how quickly the Covid-19 vaccine was developed, Meyer said scientists used research that had already been done on vaccines for other severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) viruses.
“That made it easier to develop the vaccine.”
Commenting on whether the vaccines have been tested properly, Meyer said during the clinical stage the vaccines are tested on cells and then animals in a laboratory.
“Only when they found that it is safe to use and found how the vaccine can be administered, then it goes into the clinical trial,” she said.
The clinical trials have three stages and at each stage, the data is analysed by regulatory authorities to ensure safety.
Many vaccines that countries and groups tried to develop didn’t even make it to the clinical trial, added Meyer.
Compiled by Gareth Cotterell