Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist

Vaccine hesitancy: Is avoiding the jab a gamble you should take?

Data shows that vaccines reduce severe illness and death, while there is no real evidence of deaths from vaccination yet.

Public conversations have been dotted with stories of fit and presumably healthy people suddenly dying after getting their Covid vaccination, which experts have maintained was not backed by facts but stirred vaccine hesitancy.

Claims, like one made by Fibi Masike, who has lamented on Twitter how her mother was perfectly fine and healthy, but died just over a week after she was vaccinated for Covid-19, have become common on social media, while everyday conversations also seem to have become filled with similar anecdotes.

Another Twitter user posted how their father was doing well, but died two weeks after getting the Covid-19.

Now, however, public health experts have warned stories like these could spark unnecessary fear and increase vaccine hesitancy, especially considering that there has been no causal factor identified in the deaths mentioned.

Fearmongering without facts is dangerous

Stellenbosch University epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes said making such public statements without facts was detrimental to the fight to save lives and stopping the spread of the virus.

“…such flare-ups in scare stories often happen during anxious times. People tend to see problems as much bigger and they are then fertile ground for rumours.

“Always remember that an example never proves a rule… All I can say right now is that the vaccine is orders of magnitude safer than getting Covid,” she said.

All vaccines will produce some side effects, head of the biometric sciences department at Cape Peninsula University Professor Glenda Davison said.

“In my experience, which is purely anecdotal, I have not known of anyone who has had a severe reaction or died from the vaccine. Most have had pain at the injection site, mild flu-like symptoms and muscle aches. These have all disappeared within a few days,” she said.

Davison said all the approved vaccines in South Africa have gone through extensive safety trials, and that the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) was extremely thorough in going through all the documentation.

“I would not worry about taking the vaccine.

“However, as like all vaccines and medication, there may be rare side effects and so if any symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain occur, I would immediately contact a Doctor…the chances of death after getting Covid 19 is far higher than dying after receiving the vaccine…I would also like to say to everyone to not only rely on Twitter reports for information; rather back this up with good scientific evidence,” she said

Why getting jabbed outweighs the risks

Department of health spokesperson Popo Maja said Covid-19 vaccination was a pillar of public health.

He said many highly infectious diseases have been wiped from the earth, and many societies have been saved because of expanded vaccination programmes by governments, guided the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Davison also rubbished the common conspiracy theory that vaccines have not been properly tested, and have not been approved by regulatory authorities, saying all the currently used vaccines have been approved by the The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and SAHPRA has also put them through extensive safety trials.

She added that “chances of dying from a vaccine is tiny compared to the risk of dying from Covid. Another advantage of taking the vaccine is that is lowers the risk of transmitting the virus to others”

According to this comparison between South Africa, Canada, Italy, Germany, The United Kingdom, the United States and and India on, South Africa ranks just above the United States in doses of vaccines administered per 100 people since December last year.

Daily doses of Covid-19 administered per 100 people.

Of the countries compared, South Africa is dead last in terms of total percentage of the population fully vaccinated, at a mere 3,1%.

Percentage of population vaccinated against Covid-19

The difference this large gap in vaccinations makes becomes evident when comparing the total number of deaths.

By comparison, the other six countries all confirmed Covid-19 related daily deaths of less than one per million people. South Africa is currently sitting at more than six deaths per million.

The country also has the second highest new daily infection rate out of the group, with only the UK exceeding SA’s.

This anomaly could most probably be attributed to the fact that numbers started going up in the UK last week, when the country decided to stop all Covid-19 safety protocols, including social distancing and compulsory mask wearing in public places.

Despite this increase in infections though, the country still has fewer deaths than South Africa, which may speak to the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing serious illness and death.

This is illustrated in the data below, which shows the UK as currently scoring the lowest in on stringency of safety measures.

The Covid-19 stringency index measures the strictness of lockdown measures, based on nine response measures.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine