No one could ever have imagined that the announcement made on 31 December 2019 in Wuhan China on the outbreak of Covid-19 would have such dire consequences for the world. No matter where you were in the world, and whether you were exposed to the virus or not, there was acute panic, social anxiety, extreme misinformation dissemination, cynicism, government scrutiny and health consciousness globally.
Several countries across the globe made a move towards the restriction of civilian movements, and thanks to modern technology, this meant that the consumption of online news skyrocketed as nations obsessed over the latest coronavirus statistics, historical outbreaks, the latest findings, documentaries and conspiracy theories.
This paved the way for infodemics — too much information, including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a pandemic.
According to Dr Taylor Nelson, published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, the elderly, youth, active social media users, and those with fewer years of formal education, appear to be the most susceptible to fake news. However, repeated exposure to fake news may increase susceptibility and some infodemics may reinforce pre-existing biases.
As the virus continued to infiltrate the world, a myriad myths, discriminations and stigmatisation began to surface. For instance, Asian nationals were discriminated against because they were blamed for the outbreak and the spread of the virus, some patients protested against the admission of Covid-19 patients into a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, while Covid-19 stigmatisation cases were reported in other parts of the country and globally.
An editorial in the South African Medical Journal states that there are varying factors influencing the South African Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy, ranging through doubt, indecision, uncertainty and mistrust. Other considerations are age, race, education, politics, geographical location and employment. Reportedly, white adults and people with higher levels of education are more accepting of the vaccine than those living in more rural areas or other race groups on average.
The recent sporadic reports of severe side effects, deaths associated with the vaccine, coupled with infodemics have certainly not helped get people to readily accept the vaccine. It is important to understand that historically, vaccines have been developed from taking a sample of the causative agent of the virus and inoculating it into the population to gain herd immunity, so it goes without saying that one’s body would react. The reactions and side-effects vary from one person to the next and these side-effects are necessary as they give your body instructions on how to combat the virus.
Vaccines undergo extensive testing before they are dispersed into the public domain, and although they are not 100% infallible, they are our best defence because the benefits far outweigh the risks. It is believed that vaccinating as a means of fighting a disease started in 1,000 CE and was later popularised by the successful use of vaccines in 1796. Since then, various vaccine successes have been recorded over the centuries.
We have witnessed as the world goes back to a somewhat depleted sense of “normal” that it is imperative for us, as individuals, social clubs or churches etc to not only learn about vaccines but to also be active campaigners for their use.
Covid-19 has taught us the importance of creating public awareness about current issues, the useful role that the media plays during times of crises, and the benefits of having a targeted approach to communication and community engagement when disseminating information.
From these learnings, it is pivotal that private, public, government and civil society organisations play a collective role in supporting efforts that are being made to educate and inform the public about the Covid-19 vaccine and it being our sure way out of this pandemic. DM