Vaccine may be ready, but South Africans are mostly not

12th January 2021 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Creamer Media Online Writer

Data from fintech company CompariSure found that a staggering 52% of South Africans do not want to take the Covid-19 vaccine, while President Cyril Ramaphosa on January 11 stressed the importance of the vaccine.

He said the country’s vaccine strategy was “well under way”, with 20-million doses on the way. South Africa’s dedicated healthcare workers will be prioritised in getting vaccinated.

In asking people why they do not want to take the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, CompariSure reported that 34% of respondents cited side effects as their main concern, followed by religion and price, while 40% of respondents cited other reasons, including fear of needles or government tracking.

This was despite the country being in the midst of a second wave of infections, recording 15 046 new cases on January 11.

CompariSure says that perhaps once vaccine rollouts occur all over the world and it shows eradication of the pandemic, South Africans may be less skeptical.

“What this resistance to getting vaccinated means for the government’s vaccination roll-out strategy and reaching heard immunity remains to be seen. While many countries the world over have pinned their hopes of getting out of the pandemic on vaccination, it appears that in South Africa it might not be that simple,” the fintech company states.

Technology company M4Jam concurs that South Africans remain broadly fearful of the ongoing impact of the virus on their livelihoods, however, lack trust in both the vaccines themselves and government’s handling of the vaccine rollout.

The company has surveyed 3 000 of its platform participants about their feelings on the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in South Africa, with 84% of respondents feeling the worst was yet to come, rather than the vaccine being a cure-all.

Only 32% of M4Jam’s survey respondents indicated they would take the vaccine once it becomes available, while 58% would prefer to wait and see whether it worked for others. About 10% of respondents refuse to get it, indicating a prevalent fear of the unknown among South Africans.

The company found that 68% of respondents’ main concern was possible side effects, followed by 50% of respondents fearing government’s capacity to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine rollout programme, while 39% of respondents feared the vaccines were too new.

Meanwhile, data compiled by the Gross National Happiness team, comprised of experts from the University of Johannesburg, Auckland University of Technology and software company Afstereo, shows that the debate around the vaccine has been rampant on all media platforms.

For example, the number of tweets per day on Twitter related to vaccines has increased by more than 900% since December 1.

GNH explains that the debate is mainly about whether to be vaccinated or not, as well as whether government will be able to procure the vaccines, how many and by when.

The team says people have also been wondering who will get the vaccines first and whether people will be forced to take the vaccine.

“The vaccine debate fuels negative emotions, which are already higher than the norm. We saw that during Covid-19 times negative emotions increased, going hand in hand with a decrease in positive emotions. 

“From our analyses it seems that it is mainly owing to dramatic societal changes, the loss of loved ones, isolation of staying at home, loneliness owing to social distancing measures, fear of contracting the virus, financial hardships and lately the negative emotions related to the uncertainty around the vaccines,” GNH says.

The team continues that if they compare the emotions related to vaccines to the general emotion levels experienced during Covid-19 times, it finds the biggest differences in the negative emotions, namely anger, fear and sadness – anger related to vaccines is 46% higher, fear is 92% higher and sadness is 43% higher than the general levels. 

GNH recommends that government counterbalance negative emotions with positive emotional appeals. The team suggests that messages about vaccines be framed in a positive manner, emphasising the positive outcome of the vaccine.

M4Jam shared the same sentiment, stating that misinformation or lack of consistent messaging will impede efforts to reach government’s herd immunity and vaccination targets, which could in turn impede the economic recovery efforts.