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Don't wait, vaccinate: funnyman Riaad Moosa gets serious about Covid-19

Moosa joins a host of SA celebs as #BeaSAver ambassadors, aiming to assuage vaccine hesitancy and encourage people to protect us all against the virus

29 August 2021 - 00:00 By sanet oberholzer and sanet oberholzer
Riaad Moosa is a qualified doctor, who got Covid-19 late last year.
Riaad Moosa is a qualified doctor, who got Covid-19 late last year.

In an effort to give SA's vaccine rollout a boost, the government has opened up vaccinations to those aged between 18 and 35, three days after the department of health raised concerns over the programme having lost momentum due to vaccine hesitancy.

To combat this, South African celebrities have been adding their voices to the growing chorus urging people to get vaccinated.

Comedian Riaad Moosa, rugby player Faf de Klerk, actress Pearl Thusi and Orlando Pirates and national soccer team defender Thulani Hlatshwayo have joined the Viral Facts Africa campaign as #BeaSAver ambassadors in an attempt to combat vaccine misinformation and encourage people to get their Covid-19 jabs.

Moosa, a qualified medical doctor, contracted Covid-19 at the end of last year and has lost family members to the disease during what he calls a very challenging time. We spoke to him about the importance of getting vaccinated, the drivers of vaccine hesitancy in SA and his vaccination experience.

What's the biggest driver of vaccine hesitancy in SA?

I think it's a worldwide phenomenon. People are overwhelmed on a minute-by-minute basis with a deluge of information and conflicting ideas. They're feeling vulnerable and anxious. When you get a lot of information it's very difficult to know who to trust, and people tend to err on the side of doing nothing. It's understandable but it's also unfortunate. When you decide what you're going to share, remember that in medicine the primary aim in to do no harm - that's the first step. Consider that what you're spreading  is actually substantiated and verifiable, because people are spreading a lot of lies.

What message do you have for South Africans to allay their fears?

We have real-life data from all over the world and there's a reporting back on all the issues associated with the vaccine. It's gone through trials and there's now reporting back on any issues that exist, and they're finding very few side-effects. I urge people to consider taking the vaccine — look at the information out there and talk to people who have experienced it.

Billions of doses have been given all over the world at this point, to all genders, races and nationalities, and we're finding that people can still catch Covid-19 but vaccination decreases hospitalisations, deaths and spread. It's a good tool to use in our fight against this virus.

Why is it important to get vaccinated as soon as it's possible?

First of all, you can get Covid but it definitely decreases hospitalisations and deaths. Many doctor colleagues on the front line are under a lot of strain in hospitals. I have a very close friend who works in ICU at Groote Schuur and it's very, very challenging for them, but they found in terms of experience - aside from the data - that the people in ICU are generally not the people who have been vaccinated and the people who have been vaccinated generally have a milder version of the disease if they get it.

Secondly, vaccination decreases spread. This is what we want because the more the virus spreads, the more opportunity it has to mutate and change. The virus wants to survive, which is why it's mutated into variants like the Delta variant, now also affecting young people.

An analogy: it's not even the car - it's got no engine - it's just the shape of the car, so when the body's immune system needs to react it knows what to look for

How does a Covid-19 vaccine work?

If people knew how vaccines are developed they'd be amazed at the quality we have now. Vaccines today are much safer than they were, the same way in which cars today are safer than they were when they were first invented. A vaccine is based on our body's own immune system; they initiate and stimulate the body's immune system.

Usually when your body's immune system encounters an intruder the body's defence system is mobilised to get rid of it. So your body has its own defences, but sometimes it can't respond fast [enough]. What they do [with modern vaccines] - like with the mRNA vaccine - is not using the actual disease, they use a set of instructions on how to make the spike protein. An analogy: it's not even the car - it's got no engine - it's just the shape of the car, so that when the body's immune system needs to react it knows what to look for.

Some people who are hesitant to take the vaccine aren't necessarily anti-vaxxers but are hesitant of this new type of vaccine. Why?

We're too judgmental over the fact that people are confused. Everyone has different approaches to their health and each person must decide for themselves - like you have a decision when you get into a car to put your seatbelt on or not. But, the evidence shows that putting on your seatbelt makes driving a car safer.

Sometimes there are issues - the seatbelt doesn't function or something goes wrong - but saying seatbelts don't work is not based on evidence. The problem is the spread of misinformation, that seatbelts kill you because some person said [they would]. That's when things become dangerous, when you're spreading information that you don't know is true. It can impact on other people's reasonable decision-making.

Have you been vaccinated? What was your experience?

Yes, I've had my first Pfizer shot. It sounds very prestigious because of the silent "p". I'll have the second dose in a couple of weeks. My arm was sore for two days afterwards and I had a stuffy nose but that was the extent of it. I didn't drink enough water, so the next day I drank a lot of water and felt better. The actual vaccine is not majorly intrusive and it's not painful.

• Viral Facts Africa is a social content hub launched in March 2021 by the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance to produce and distribute digital productions to combat misinformation online. Follow @viralfactsafro on Instagram and Twitter or visit viralfacts.org.