Picture: REUTERS/IVAN ALVARADO
Picture: REUTERS/IVAN ALVARADO

As the government gears up to begin the biggest immunisation drive in SA’s history, it faces the huge challenge of convincing enough of the population of the wisdom of taking coronavirus vaccines, a new survey reveals.

A third of adult respondents said they would either not get the vaccine or were undecided, according to the latest round of a continued survey by the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

In his weekly newsletter on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed apparent vaccine scepticism in SA and said the government has launched an extensive communications campaign to "challenge many of the misconceptions in circulation" about the efficacy and safety of being vaccinated.

"All of us need to be part of this national effort and not allow the spread of rumours, fear and mistrust. False information and fake news can and do put lives at risk," he wrote.

The survey’s assessment of whether adults in SA are willing to be vaccinated included 10,618 respondents and is the largest survey of its kind to date in SA. The findings were weighted for age, gender and ethnicity, and are broadly representative of the general population, according to the researchers.

It suggests that SA has a long way to go to reassure people of vaccines’ safety and efficacy because the figure of 67% acceptance, including roughly 15% of those who would "probably get vaccinated", could shift, since minors are not included.

World Health Organization experts have pointed out that immunising between 65% and 70% of a population could halt the pandemic and help protect whole communities or nations.

"Our analysis shows that vaccine hesitancy comes down to a range of legitimate concerns about a vaccine developed and rolled out in record time, as well as some distrust in the government and corporations. We need a vaccine literacy campaign that provides factual information that will sway the waverers," said the HSRC’s Narnia Bohler-Muller.

After growing criticism and media pressure, the government moved late in 2020 to secure millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines and to sketch out its strategy for immunising enough adults to achieve herd immunity. It aims to vaccinate two-thirds of the population, or 40-million people, by the end of 2021.

It will start with frontline health-care workers. The first tranche of 1.5-million doses of Covid-19 vaccines secured from the Serum Institute of India are expected to arrive in SA by the end of the week.

The survey comes almost a month after a separate survey sponsored by the World Economic Forum showed only 53% of those polled said they would get a shot, putting SA among countries in which citizens exhibit the lowest intention to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The University of Johannesburg and HSRC survey found that the majority of adults, 52%, would definitely get the vaccine, and 14% would probably get it.

By contrast, only 15% said they definitely would not, with a further 6% saying they probably would not get vaccinated.

Finally, 15% said they did not know whether or not they would take the vaccine.

Adding in those who probably want to be vaccinated, the figure for acceptances comes to 67%, or two-thirds of the population.

The assessment also found that those who believed Ramaphosa is doing a good job in his handling of the pandemic were most likely to be inoculated (73% acceptance) compared with those who thought he was doing a bad job (36%). With Tiisetso Motsoeneng

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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