Pricks and prayers: half of SA chooses faith over jabs, says survey

Nonetheless, the rollout has amped up impressively, with SA doing better than nations like Australia and Germany

29 July 2021 - 12:25 By tanya farber
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To date, about 6.8-million jabs have been administered in SA.
NO COLD SHOULDER To date, about 6.8-million jabs have been administered in SA.
Image: Diana Polekhina/Unsplash

About half of South Africans wants the prick of a vaccination needle to protect them from Covid-19.

The other half believes prayer will protect them.

These are the findings of Afrobarometer, a pan-African research institution. 

Despite these opinions, however, 6.8-million jabs have now been given in the country and the rollout has increased 15-fold since its inception on May 17, as people flock to vaccine sites.

Afrobarometer also found that 80% of South Africans believe lockdown measures “were necessary to curb the spread of the virus”, but 64% (about two thirds) said they “found it difficult to comply” with those measures.

Findings from the survey “show that South Africans consider themselves well-informed about Covid-19, and that they are broadly supportive of the lockdown and school closures as necessary steps”, according to the report. “But South Africans have struggled to comply with lockdown restrictions, and they believe that resources needed for the pandemic response were misappropriated by corrupt government officials.”

Most South Africans do not trust the government to ensure the vaccines are safe and “nearly half of respondents believe prayer is more effective at preventing Covid-19 transmission than a vaccine”.

According to Afrobarometer’s Sibusiso Nkomo, “the survey was conducted between May 2 and June 10, and included 1,600 people from a nationally representative group across the country”.

Speaking on a panel organised by the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, he said the issue of mistrust of, and corruption within, government was “really having an impact” on how people view the pandemic, the country’s handling of it and the vaccine rollout.

According to Dr Nicholas Crisp, deputy director-general in the national department of health: “You’ve got to have zero tolerance of corruption. Then, you have to design your systems so they’re hard to corrupt.”

He said: “Right now, on the vaccine programme, the auditor-general is literally with us all the time asking questions and we do have to have that kind of diligence within the system we are building.”

Umunyana Rugege, executive director of Section27, said: “Regarding corruption, we have to ensure that at every level, the systems are in place to pick up errors or irregularities. These things cost us millions of rands.”

She said the country needed “IT systems and the right infrastructure” to counter corruption, and that “managers at all levels should be capacitated” to prevent it, monitor it and weed it out.

Mistrust was also fuelled in the early days of the pandemic as the government failed to play with “open cards”.

Despite misgivings from the public, people have arrived in droves to receive a jab.

Stavros Nicolaou, of Business for South Africa (B4SA), said: “When we commenced the rollout on May 17 we were doing 0,025 per 100 citizens. Last Friday, we touched three out of 100 and that is a 15-fold increase. That is over 10 weeks and it’s an aggressive ramp-up.”

He added: “Some analysts were saying in April that at the rate it was going it would take 23 years to complete. That was a very insincere way of presenting it as we were never going to stay with just 17 sites, as we had done during an implementation study. Those reports were duplicitous and inaccurate, and the facts are bearing us out.”  

According to Tebogo Phaleng, of Discovery Health, 17% of the national target has been hit and, he added, “that may not sound great, but if I tell you that that’s what we have achieved in the first two months, we have actually done better than countries like Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Germany”.

The flipside, he said, “is that we still have 33-million to vaccinate and that is daunting”.

It is, however, a common goal of the public and private health sectors, which have been collaborating, to reach a point where Covid-19 is endemic and no longer an epidemic.

Latest studies suggest vaccines overall offer up to 94% protection.

No data are available on how effective prayer is.

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