Why are South African men not getting vaccinated?
This is a question giving officials and civil society groups anxiety as the country pushes to attain herd immunity, with men currently making less than 40% of 12.7 million South Africans who have been fully vaccinated.
This concern, has brought together various civil society organisations, under the umbrella of the Community Constituency Front for Covid-19, to launch a new campaign, #vacciNATION4MEN, which aims to put men firmly at the centre of efforts to get more people vaccinated. The campaign is supported by The Solidarity Fund and the National Department of Health through its vaccine Demand Acceleration Task Team (DATT).
The Community Constituency Front for Covid-19 (CCF) convened by Mabalane Mfundisi has in recent weeks, held a series of discussions with men from various communities to understand the reasons behind their hesitance to be vaccinated.
Many believe that one of the reasons is that a sophisticated disinformation campaign is louder than credible information on Covid-19 and associated vaccines.
These listening sessions culminated in a roundtable on Saturday attended by a broad range of organisations that included the South African Youth Council, South African Football Players Union, CONTRALESA, National Union of Mine Workers (NUM), Access Chapter 2, Religious Forum Against Covid-19, Qina Mshayeli representing the Taxi Industry and the National Unitary Professional Association for African Traditional Health Practitioners of South Africa (NUPAATHPSA) and RIIME Men’s Forum, amongst others, who discussed their views on the Covid-19 vaccine, as well as effective reach of these vaccines to communities.
Facilitated by Champion SA Founder Ashraf Garda, the discussions gave expression to the call by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to rewrite on script on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
McMillan Ngobeni of Access Chapter 2, a non-governmental organisation that also works in the space of HIV and AIDS encouraged participants in the roundtable “to be brave in responding to Covid-19 and to bring to same attention and focus to this as was recently seen in the run up to the local government elections.”
Prof Mbulelo Dyasi of the RIIME Men’s Forum, which was echoed by the Religious Forum Against Covid-19, said that religious bodies are aware of the challenges of misinformation about the vaccines within faith groups, and highlighted that if faith leaders continue to mislead communities, the country is headed for disaster. He, however, added that the intention is to engage all spheres of the vaccine debate, encompassing pro-vaxxers and anti vaxxers.
Dr Saul Johnson, partner at Genesis Health and advisor to The Solidarity Fund said that questions around vaccines – such as ‘is it safe for me?’, ‘how is it going to affect me?’, ‘should I be waiting a little bit longer?’ – are all valid.
It is therefore important to ensure that the concerns of men are not addressed in a way that doesn’t judge them.
This resonated with views of the CCF who have also made representatives of the taxi industry a key pillar of their strategy to talk about concerns of people who are hesitant about taking the vaccine.
Clement Doncabe of Qina Mshayeli, representing the taxi industry, said, “We want to be part of the solution because Covid-19 affects us all. If people are not vaccinated and they travel on our taxis, we could become infected and also infect our families.
We want people to know that vaccines are safe and that they can save lives.
Mabalane Mfundisi, co-convener of the CCF, said that, “to be successful in increasing the rates of vaccinations, we are going to bring out some of the traditional tried, and tested mobilisation tactics like loud hailers. We want to be in communities saying to people, ‘there is a pop up site at the community centre, #RollUpYourSleeves and vaccinate today’. Our campaign will also be translated into all of the 11 official languages to ensure people have the information they need to help them make an informed choice about being vaccinated against Covid-19.”
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As part of the vaccination for men campaign, Mkhulu Ben Rampono, of National Unitary Professional Association for African Traditional Health Practitioners of South Africa (NUPAATHPSA), said traditional leaders have pledged to make sure that all boys who attend initiation schools will be vaccinated before they begin their rite of passage to manhood.
Dr Saul Johnson said that no effort was being spared to bring vaccines to the people around the country, saying that “vaccine pop up sites were being set up much closer to where people are to make it easy for them to take up the opportunity to be vaccinated without it taking too much time, having to be absent from work, or to spend a lot of money on transportation.
The overwhelming evidence that vaccines are saving lives and reducing the rates of hospitalisation highlights the need to get as many people vaccinated against the virus. Government, business and civil society are working together, and tirelessly, to achieve this. We have to make it easy for people to be vaccinated and this is our focus now.
Bringing the discussions to a close SANAC co-chair Steve Letsike called on men in particular to be part of the solution against the pandemic. “This pandemic has been devastating. We have all lost loved ones. We now have a very effective mechanism at our disposal to bring an end to these tragic losses and to get the pandemic under control. We can vaccinate!”
South Africa needs to vaccinate 27 million to attain herd immunity.
To increase the rates of vaccinations, the Vooma and #RollUpYourSleeves and Vaccinate Today campaigns were launched in October. Both of these campaigns are data driven and based on solid insights from a range of surveys undertaken to understand what is driving vaccine hesitancy.
#RollUpYourSleevesSA and get vaccinated today!