Volunteers Tackle COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG – Despite COVID-19 vaccine being available to all South African adults, uptake remains low with just 20% of adults having received a first dose. 

The Muslim Association of South Africa is one of many groups combatting vaccine hesitancy by delivering shots to doorsteps. 

Dawn Crotz received her Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from a paramedic in the comfort of her south Johannesburg home.

While the vaccine has been available to the 64-year-old since April, Crotz said rumors about the side effects made her hesitate. But the reality of the deadly virus changed her mind.

“I decided to get it because I saw my daughter-in-law’s father got so sick he passed away,” Crotz said. “And then I thought I might also get it. I take a flu vaccine every year. I go in and I buy it and they give it to me. And then I thought, ‘No, let me do this also.’”

A patient receives a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a pop-up vaccination centre, at the Bare taxi rank in Soweto, South Africa,…
A patient receives a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a pop-up vaccination center in Soweto, South Africa, Aug. 20, 2021.

With South Africa’s COVID-19 death toll surpassing 79,000, volunteer health workers are scrambling to quell people’s vaccine fears.

The country’s Muslim association launched an at-home vaccination program to provide individual attention to allay concerns and to remove the barriers of traveling to a clinic.

Muhammad Varachia is one of the paramedics delivering at-home vaccine.

“I think it’s just a misconception, people reading on social media, people hearing from different people that is bad for you, that it’s man-made,” Varachia said. “How can we create a vaccine in a year, etc, etc. So, there’s a lot of hesitancy that we’ve come across, but we put their fears to bed.”

Another problem is access to transportation and basic information about how one can get the vaccine, especially among the elderly.

“The registration for vaccines are electronic,” Varachia said. “And even though you can also register at sites, you need to know where the sites are, before you can show up there.”

For some people, like 22-year-old Kurt Fischer who is quadriplegic, getting to a vaccination site is difficult both physically and mentally.

While the rest of his family had been vaccinated, his father, Kevin Fischer, said having an at-home option for his son was a game changer.

“I would have sacrificed not having it to give him my shot, if possible, that he’s, he’s first,” Fischer said. “The familiarity of being able to be in his house is a big benefit, that there’s no stress of going to a foreign venue.”

Experts said volunteer efforts are closing the gap in vaccinating more people, especially those most vulnerable.

President Cyril Ramaphosa applauded the country’s youth on Monday for rushing to sites as vaccines were made available to those as young as 18.

But experts warn that fears and other barriers still need to be addressed, or the latest uptick could fizzle out as it did among older age groups.

 

Author: Histidine