Vaccine hesitancy in SA: ’I've heard from so many people that you can't have children’
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JOHANNESBURG - As South Africa continued experiencing vaccine hesitancy despite having adequate vaccine doses, government officials admitted there was a need to educate communities to dispel myths and fake news about Covid-19 shots.
"Government has secured sufficient vaccines to vaccinate the entire adult population, and the supply of vaccines is no longer a constraint," said President Cyril Ramaphosa Sunday night, who warned that men are still slow in coming forward to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Lusanda Nini, 34, from Fishhook said he was not planning to get vaccinated after being told that vaccines allegedly resulted in infertility problems.
"I've heard from so many people that you can't have children for five years if you get vaccinated," he said. "I still want children."
He said a number of his friends were not getting the vaccine due to similar reasons.
"I also hear that some people are dying from the vaccines and I'm staying away," he added.
Siya Sicetsha, who had been at home for more than a year due to the pandemic, was compelled to get his first jab last week.
"I only returned to work in May this year, I'm tired of this virus and that's what forced me to get vaccinated," he said.
When asked if he was aware of fake news circulating about vaccines, Sicetsha said: "I know all stories but I'm also worried about being prevented from accessing certain places because I'm not vaccinated."
"Most of my friends and colleagues are not getting the vaccines because of the fake stories," said the 31-year-old.
Deputy President David Mabuza launched a vaccination social mobilization campaign last week, encouraging citizens to get vaccinated. He interacted with and took questions from ordinary people during his visits to a number of areas with low levels of vaccine uptake.
He acknowledged the role fake news and conspiracy theories played in the number of people getting vaccinated.
"Clearly we have to do more to turn around this situation of vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination sentiments due mainly to fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories about the safety and efficacy of vaccines," he said.
South Africa has been the worst affected country in Africa by the virus, with more than 2.8 million infections and 84 877 Covid-19 related deaths up until Sunday. So far, more than a quarter of all adult South Africans have received at least one vaccine dose and more than 7 million people are fully vaccinated.
Addressing some of these conspiracy theories, Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of the South African Medical Association, said that anti-vaccine sentiments even by medical workers were hurting the vaccine campaign.
"We've spoken to our own members to stick to science and not give their own opinions on the vaccine," she said, acknowledging the damage-unproven claims were contributing to vaccine hesitancy.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla recently said that fake news was being peddled "unfortunately even by some few health professionals."
"We need to do much more," said Ramaphosa during his national speech Sunday night. "We are spreading the message in all languages to ensure that people understand that these vaccines are safe, effective and free... We have taken steps to make it easier for people to access vaccination wherever they are."
The president said there are more than 3 000 public and private vaccination sites across the country, and most private sites will vaccinate any member of the public for free whether they have health insurance or not.
"It is up to each and every one of us to convince our family, friends and co-workers that vaccination is safe and that it could save their lives," emphasized the president.