In Matabeleland South, Vaccine Scepticism Is Widespread

On his mobile phone, Anele Hadebe, 32, of Mangwe district, scrolls through pictures of top government officials and other frontline workers moments after receiving vaccination jabs against COVID-19.

However, he is not keen on joining the vaccination queue.

“I personally would not get the jab even if it were available here,” Hadebe tells The Citizen Bulletin via telephone.

In the opposite corner of public opinion, his wife Sithembile is itching to get inoculated and is even willing to pay for the jab.

Scepticism about getting the COVID-19 vaccine runs deep among Matabeleland South rural dwellers.

In February, Zimbabwe received 200 000 doses of the two-shot Sinopharm vaccine courtesy of a Chinese donation.

More vaccine deals from Russia, India and the United Kingdom are being worked out, the government says.

Front-line workers, who include health workers, police, the army, other government agencies workers, the elderly and people with underlying illnesses, got the jab first. Journalists are also part of the first phase of the vaccination programme.

Vaccination is voluntary and free, but the government has encouraged citizens to get the jab.

However, doses of mistrust and intermittent communication are fuelling pessimism around COVID-19 vaccines.

“That’s a no for me. No one in my village explained to us why we should be vaccinated when we are not sick,” adds Hadebe.

Hadebe claims to have learnt through a text message from a South Africa based relative that Sanzwuki village is among the select few areas in Mangwe designated as a vaccination point.

“I understand that large gatherings are not permitted during the lockdown; at least health workers should have moved around educating us.”

Artwell Sibanda, from Mtobobi ward in Manyame village, says he is eager to be vaccinated.

“Many people are eagerly awaiting to be vaccinated. However, you know, naysayers claim it will kill us. Without any hesitation, I am going for it,” he says.

Explanations for anti-vaccine sentiment and people being cautious of COVID-19 jab than they would be of other vaccines vary. Still, Nolwazi Sibanda of Nathisa in Matobo says suspicion of government and vaccine misinformation may play a role.

Her main worry is over the long-term safety of the vaccines. She insists there is just not enough information on the vaccine’s safety.

“There’s a high level of scepticism here. As a manufacturer, when you keep defending a particular product, know that your customers have doubts about it.”

“Remember people have a low perception of Chinese products, what more of a vaccine said to be lifesaving. I will not vaccinate.”

“Government is not giving us full details of the vaccine strength but only emphasises that people must volunteer. I do not trust this (vaccine).”

She adds: “It is government’s job to dispel misinformation and instil confidence among citizens, but I see little evidence of that.”

The second phase is for those at medium risk, and the third phase covers everyone else willing to be inoculated.

The government expects to take delivery of 600 000 purchased doses in early March and hope to immunise 60% of its estimated population of 14 million people.

Hadebe casts doubt on the sustainability of a free roll out. He fears it might be a “short- term move.”

“I won’t be surprised to hear of a COVID-19 tax being imposed. Government coffers are not that deep to sustain this ambitious programme,” says Hadebe. “My feeling is that subsequent phases will not be free. Nothing is totally free.”

Chief Coordinator for the National Response to COVID-19 Pandemic in the Office of The President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, has allayed widespread fears among citizens.

“As we roll out the vaccination, we are excited but let us remember vaccines are not the magic bullet. They are not 100 per cent and don’t provide a 100 per cent protection for this disease.”

Mahomva adds that people should “continue washing hands with soap and running water, always sanitise, wear a face mask and do it properly.”

Traditional chiefs are also appealing for their subjects to embrace the vaccine.

“What is important is everyone has the right to be vaccinated, and it’s for free. No one is being held at ransom to be injected. Those who are willing should come forward. Let’s do what’s best for the nation and us,” Chief Mbiko Masuku of Matshetsheni communal lands says.

Source: The Citizens Bulletin

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