Government’s plan to vaccinate as many South Africans as possible faces a setback as disinformation tactics put millions of lives at risk by blurring facts about vaccination with fictional conspiracy theories.
A weekly report compiled by several organisations conducting social listening on Covid-19 vaccines found that a lack of demand was hindering the roll-out programme.
The report found that on Friday August 13, about 154 000 South Africans were vaccinated, just over half the number on July 21. Clearly, overcoming vaccine hesitancy is becoming a key success factor for the rollout.
“Vaccine demand generation – persuading individuals, building social norms and lowering logistical accessibility barriers – is the site of struggle,” says the report.
Conspiracy theories – such as vaccines are a form of population control – remain rife on social media.
The Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change, which contributes to the report, found that new narratives of misinformation continues to emerge, the latest being that vaccines affect both male and female fertility.
“A tweet which had quite high traction with 373 and 396 likes states that the Pfizer vaccine has
‘grave risk to female fertility’,” read the report.
The Department of Health reported cases of individuals who registered using ID numbers that did not belong to them, making it difficult for the real owner of the number to register.
Some businesses were also found to have used the World Health Organisation logo to market unregistered products as treatments for Covid-19.
Last week, social media conversation around vaccines peaked after Dr Susan Vosloo commented that people were not informed of the risks of the vaccines or that “there are other effective treatments”.
Vosloo’s sentiments, which have been refuted by health experts, have spiked vaccine hesitancy online, with several Twitter users such as White Man Bad and ThandekaLo showing their support.
Despite these challenges, the organisations reported more positive sentiments about vaccines as many people publicly shared their experiences after vaccination with minor or no side effects.
Health minister Joe Phaahla announced that he was consulting with cabinet over the opening of vaccinations for all adults above 18.
At the start of this week, more then than 9 million vaccines had been administered across South Africa.
The report was compiled by the Risk Communications and Community Engagement Working Group of the department of health.