We've got news for you.

Register on BusinessLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now
Picture: 123RF/dmitrydemidovich
Picture: 123RF/dmitrydemidovich

With SA’s fourth wave upon us and a mere 23.4% of the population fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the country’s vaccination programme is in a race against time. The Covid-19 pandemic in Europe has often foreshadowed what came later elsewhere globally, and if the European example is anything to go by — paying particular attention to Spain — lessons must be learnt as the virus rages on.

About 79% of Spain’s population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Spain was one of the countries earliest and hardest hit by the pandemic and is now being hailed as a “vaccine champion”, with the highest vaccination rate of Europe’s big nations. It now has one of the lowest infection rates and has been spared a surge, while Covid-19 infections and deaths throughout the rest of Europe continue to rise.

Covid-19 vaccination programmes are generally understood to be a prerequisite for a return to normalcy in our social and economic lives. The benefits are clear — mass vaccinations will help return us to a functional economy where jobs can be retained and new ones created. However, we cannot ignore the causes of the high level of vaccine hesitancy in SA if we are to avoid further lockdowns.

It is paramount that any solution aimed at achieving the population immunity we so desperately need takes into consideration the nuances of our unique country. But what are the factors causing vaccine hesitancy?

  • Legacy of colonial medicine and inherent mistrust of vaccines developed in Western countries. This is rooted in the history of unethical Western medical practices on the continent, where early efforts to tackle disease diminished trust in Western medicine and led to the underutilisation of health services. This is worsened in SA, where our apartheid past and failure of the subsequent regime to improve living standards because of rampant corruption, has resulted in severe distrust of the government.
  • Earning a living versus taking time off work to get vaccinated. According to Ames Dhai, a leading authority in bioethics and vice-chair of the ministerial advisory committee for Covid-19 vaccines, it is important to consider the socioeconomic factors that contribute to vaccine hesitancy. “Getting vaccinated is not a straightforward decision because they have to consider factors like the cost of travelling to the vaccination site, taking time off work, and possibly not being paid for that time off,” she says.
  • Without transport, many in need have no chance of getting the jab. Limited access to vaccination sites is among the reasons the country is falling short of its target of vaccinating 70% of the population by the end of the month. Many South Africans simply cannot afford public transport when a one-way trip to the nearest vaccination site may cost in excess of R70.
  • Autonomy. People want autonomy with respect to decision-making about their health care, and heavy-handed interventions such as mandatory vaccination are not necessarily the answer to vaccine hesitancy — building trust is.

Employers have a critical role to play in accelerating vaccination rates among their employees, and employers would be well advised to consider a set of actions that support vaccine adoption by building trust through positive messaging and making vaccination as convenient and costless as possible.

Implementing a vaccination policy that ensures employee rights to bodily integrity, religious freedom and beliefs, which is based on mutual respect and achieves a balance between the constitutional rights of employees and the efficient operation of an employer’s business, is preferable.

By providing information about the vaccination and building confidence among employees, employers can help increase vaccine uptake among their people, and by extension their families and communities. Stronger messaging and encouragement, positioning the vaccine as an investment into the economy and society, demystifying the science behind the vaccine and flooding the workplace with positive messaging that is easy to understand leaves little room for conspiracy theories and could help employees feel more informed and confident when they decide to get vaccinated.

• Ravens is Accelerate Cape Town CEO.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.