Despite an anti-vaccination contingent in South African society, Business Leadership South Africa CEO Busi Mavuso says common sense and rationality prevail for the most part in terms of acceptance and a willingness to get vaccinated – a factor that could soon mean the complete reopening of the country’s economy.
“It is a major milestone that all adults are now able to get vaccinated. It means so many more of our population will be able to protect themselves and each other,” she says.
Mavuso says the facts are clear – vaccinated people have lower chances of getting Covid-19, of spreading it and being severely affected if they do get it. “This is the key to resuming economic activity in all areas.”
However, she explains that the vaccination rollout in South Africa is being impeded by demand rather than supply. “Vaccination centres are standing empty while there are still high numbers of people who should be getting vaccinated. Supply is still an issue but in a different way – it is no longer about accessing international stocks of vaccine, but about getting it to hard-to-reach people, whether in rural areas or townships.”
In this regard, Mavuso points to surveys showing that the demand problem is slowly improving. One by the University of Johannesburg last week, she says, showed that the overall vaccine acceptance rate in July had improved to 72%, from 67% in December 2020.
A similar study by National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile showed a shift from 71% to 76% between March and May this year.
Nonetheless, she says global rates vary widely, with one 2020 study finding ranges of between 90% in China, to 55% in Russia. “So we are not outliers. But it is clear that we need all South Africans to come round to recognising that the vaccine is our passport to a normal life.”
Education and awareness are part of the solution to increasing demand for vaccines and Mavuso says it is also important that prominent individuals actively promote vaccination in the public domain.
“We need to work with churches, unions, civil society organisations and others to promote vaccines. Employers have a clear role to play too, making it easy for employees to access information and get to vaccination sites. We have to rally all South Africans to get vaccinated,” she says.
The prize that awaits, Mavuso says – the complete reopening of the economy. “A return to mass gatherings like sports events and entertainment. This is already a reality in countries that have achieved sufficient vaccine penetration, generally at the 70% level.”
However, South Africa still has “a great deal” of work to do to get the economy growing to recover the employment and tax revenue it has lost through the pandemic, and then to deal with unemployment and poverty beyond that, she notes.
“Unemployment figures are due out this week and will probably show we still have over one-million fewer jobs in the formal sector than before the pandemic.”
In this regard, there are lots of measures needed to boost growth, some of which have already been taken, says Mavuso. These include rule changes to permit companies to more easily generate up to 100 MW of electricity themselves.
All things considered, she says, a post-vaccine scenario is an important precondition, as business confidence will continue to be weak while South Africa operates under various levels of lockdown.