Vaccine hesitancy, fake news, access a problem

Mitchell’s Plain is still one of the communities with a low vaccine uptake with the area identified by local and provincial health authorities as one of the health sub-districts that require more intervention to ramp up the vaccination rate.

Abeedah Adams, Mitchell’s Plain resident and steering committee member of the People’s Vaccine Campaign (PVC), said therefore the campaign called a crisis meeting at the Mitchell’s Plain Indoor Sport and Recreation Centre in Portland last Friday August 20 with community leaders to discuss vaccine hesitancy, fake news as well as people not being able to register online or access the vaccines.

Abeedah Adams, Mitchell’s Plain resident and steering committee member of the People’s Vaccine Campaign.

Martin Jansen, the director of Workers’ World Media Productions and also a steering committee member of the PVC, said flowing from the Covid-19 People’s Coalition formed in March 2020, the campaign was borne earlier this year after recognising that the South African government was lagging behind in vaccine procurement and without a clear distribution plan. They needed to identify problems during the pandemic. “We noticed we needed a solution then, and that was the vaccine, which is the only option to defeat the pandemic.”

Various non-governmental organisations, trade unions, scientists and doctors formed this coalition, he said.

The campaign strives to ensure vaccine equity and that pharmaceutical patents do not prevent South Africa and African countries from accessing sufficient vaccines. “Rich countries have taken up most of the vaccines. South Africa has not vaccinated 10% of our population yet. We have lots of problems with being serviced,” he said.

Mr Jansen said the campaign has received under R3 million of funds from The Solidarity Fund. This is mainly for vaccine literacy education – Train-the-Trainer and community educational workshops and media.

Government controls vaccines which is a good thing, he said. The PVC, however, also plays a watchdog role of the government’s vaccine distribution. The resources for health care are extremely unevenly distributed, Mr Jansen said.

There were a few leaders, religious leaders and health experts at the meeting, with some of the councillors representing Mitchell’s Plain wards not present at the meeting.

Dr Roland Kroukamp, a family physician at the Mitchell’s Plain Community Health Centre (day hospital), said 27% of our vulnerable population are the elderly.

“Many of the clients we see at the day hospital have a lifestyle disease such as hypertension, diabetes, to name a few.

“Having a conversation with them to determine their knowledge on vaccinations, I have picked up that social media is a concern. We understand there is freedom of speech but a line needs to be drawn between fact and fiction. There are lots of misconceptions,” he said.

Ivermectin is the elephant in the room, Dr Kroukamp said. There are numerous people in Mitchell’s Plain using Ivermectin as a solution to Covid-19 and vaccination.

Hence, he said, they don’t believe in vaccination as people mistakenly believe Ivermectin is protecting them.

Ivermectin is driven on social media, he said. “I am deeply concerned about this. There has been no definitive attempt at stopping these people. Bring them to book, we should be serious about this,” Dr Kroukamp said.

The South African government has posted on its website https://www.gov.za/covid-19/vaccine/ivermectin that the “South African Health Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) noted that the overall quality of clinical trials of Ivermectin in the treatment of Covid-19 patients is poor. Until evidence that is more robust is available, the use of Ivermectin for Covid-19 cannot be justified.”

Dr Kroukamp said while the elderly may not be tech-savvy, they register them at the hospital if they are not able. “Now that the vaccinations have opened for the 18 to 35 age group, they will encourage the older folk to get vaccinated,” he said.

“Blaming others won’t help. We are doing well with the little that is given to health care, but we need the support of the community,” he said.

Reverend Franklin Williams, from House of Faith Ministries in Portland, said he is an ambassador for the vaccine. “I opened my door and told the young group outside my door they can be vaccinated. ’Daai is vir ou mense’, they told me. These remarks shock me. It is not only older people dying of it (Covid-19), younger people are also dying of it,” he emphasised.

Reverend Franklin Williams from House of Faith Ministries in Portland, said he is an ambassador for the vaccine.

“How are we going to convince the people to get vaccinated? Doctors should speak about this more often. To us as citizens of Mitchell’s Plain, we should encourage our people to register. This Ivermectin is a dangerous thing, people are opting for this instead of the vaccine. The side effects are dangerous.

“Pick up the banner and say I will make an effort to win 10 people to get vaccinated,” said Reverend Williams.

There is also the matter of some religious leaders not believing in the vaccine. “We must tell our church members to vaccinate. Some believe vaccines are from the devil. This is a problem. Get vaccinated,” Reverend Williams said.

Community activist Beryl Saaiman said people need to make it known if they have a Covid-19 case in their home or tell people to stay home and not visit, to remain safe.

“Our communities need to be educated on vaccinations. I had my first jab and that is what saved my life. I have recovered from Covid-19 and I thank God I am still alive. It is not nice to see people pass away because of Covid-19. Educate them (residents),” she said.

A member of the African Water Commons Collective (AWCC), Ebrahiem Fourie, said that vaccine hesitancy is more because of people’s “lived reality”. “When I registered I received a message to be vaccinated on a public holiday, on Women’s Day, I had to spend money I didn’t have and went the following day.

“Vir my is dit beter om te gaan skarrel vir kos, than to have to stand in a line to get vaccinated. Hospitals have a problem with the vaccination process and systems,” he said.

He said people walk without a mask to collect scrap for food for their children. They are not afraid of contracting the virus, he said and people do not have the resources to go to these sites. “Bring the vaccination sites closer,” said Mr Fourie.

Another member of the AWCC, Faeza Meyer, said the government should take responsibility for getting people vaccinated. She said when it is time to vote, lots of effort is put into this. She argued that the same energy needs to be put into messages of vaccinations.

“There is lots of confusion on vaccinations and Ivermectin. Who do we listen to?” said Ms Meyer.

Daniel Rass, from the Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association (MURA), said he has encountered people who do not want to take the vaccine. Mr Rass said the government should allow the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the Department of Labour and Employment to pay out Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) grants and benefits to residents at the vaccination sites. They will attend if this happens, he said.

The People’s Vaccine Campaign group will meet up again as there are more points that need to be discussed.

They will host a Train-the-Trainers workshop on Saturday September 4 at Mondale High School in Portland from 9.30am to 4pm. For more information, contact Abeedah Adams on abeedah.adams@gmail.com or 072 028 3551.

There were a few leaders, religious leaders and health experts at the meeting, with some of the councillors in Mitchell’s Plain not present.