Covid-19 official statistics indicate that there were 124,773 confirmed positive cases with 4,419 deaths in Zimbabwe since the outbreak of the pandemic last year to August this year.
The government of Zimbabwe has since rolled out the vaccination programme from February 2021 and a total of 4,172,036 vaccine doses have been administered by August this year.
However, lack of information and misinformation regarding the Covid-19 vaccine in Zimbabwe appears to be stepping up leaving several people across the country undecided on whether or not they should be vaccinated.
The indecisive nature of it is that official engagements with the authority are not there to stop viral rumours from spreading on social media causing hesitation and at times outright rejection.
Communication specialists Dr Gift Gwindingwe, said many online platforms spread unverified information thereby misleading people especially in the peri-urban and rural areas where people have limited access to the mainstream media.
“In these platforms, individuals don’t care whether or not they are sharing correct information unlike what professional journalists do on their official accounts, websites or in their official media channels”. It is unfortunate that pressure from ‘information super highways’ is not according to the custodians of official information such as Public Relations officials, professional journalists and some office bearers the chance to inform the population thereby putting the people in danger, yet, it needs a simple statement from official position to turn the tides of the viral rumours.
“I do not doubt that the media, especially community media, including the radios and other outreach programmes currently organised to spread information on Covid 19 and vaccination, in particular, if supported by the government and other stakeholders can reach out to remote parts of the country where the majority of the people are,” Dr Gwindingwe said.
Although at times, the hesitation culminates into outright vaccine refusal as indicated above, the reason for this entire hesitance and refusal is that many Zimbabwean have been subjected to misinformation and conspiracy theories about the effects of the vaccine.
Some people have been exposed to the rumours online and they now seem to fear the side effects from the jab than the fear of Covid-19 itself.
Besides, another theory breathing through the social media advances that Covid 19 vaccine is a capitalist money-spinning gimmick, while some more rumours peddled contend that the vaccine is being used to inject the people with some type of a microchip into the people’s bodies to allow the possibility of putting everyone under surveillance and tracking system.
To add some salt to an injury, some modern churches in Zimbabwe and elsewhere have also brought in a strong dimension to this conspiracy theory. They have drawn strong links between the biblical “Mark of the Beast” and the Covid-19 jab.
As a result of this, some churches are encouraging their members to shun the vaccine. Although there is no clear scientific evidence to support these claims, members of several churches continue to be hesitant and some are outrightly snubbing the vaccination jeopardising Covid 19 vaccination rollout in Zimbabwe.
Much of such information is being peddled through unofficial social media platforms like Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook and is usually imperfect and open the door for blunders and advance rumours that is causing confusion and indecisiveness among the population.
Many people in rural areas do not have clear information on the vaccine and the only thing they know about Covid 19 vaccine is what they have read on social media platforms and their local opinion and religious leaders would have told them.
“I have always been sceptic to receive the covid 19 vaccines because I read it online that I will get blood clots and die and if I live longer, I will not go beyond two years from the day of receiving the Jab,” said one victim of misinformation.
Masvingo Provincial Taskforce spokesperson Rogers Irimayi said they are using various methods of disseminating information so that the correct message gets to everyone.
“We are using the media – our local newspapers and radio stations to reach out to the people. We have also collaborated and partnered with other stakeholders like NGOs to make sure that correct information get to the people in real time,” said Irimayi.
Indeed, unlike other vaccine programmes done in the past such as polio, and measles, there is no adequate public awareness campaign done by the Zimbabwean government and its stakeholders on the Covid-19 vaccination project. In the past, we had other health campaign programmes like, HIV, Circumcision (Pinda Musmart) among others which attracted a huge awareness campaign through, billboards located in different areas around town, radio programmes, television programmes and other promotional materials, as well as roadshows by mobile teams. The deafening silence on the issue of Covid 19 vaccines is worrisome. Although, I can acknowledge that massive awareness campaigns on ways of preventing Covid-19 reached levels of information overload, very few information campaigns about the vaccine have been done.
Although, it has been stated that the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe has authorized the use of Sinopharm and Sinovac doses from China, Russia’s Sputnik V and India’s Covaxin, their recipients know very little about this. The government has not bothered to share much about the brand of vaccine it had procured and for which people, its specifications and effects for the population to make their own independent choice. Unfortunately, the public does not have such vital information to make a proper and informed decision on what should get into their bodies. However, it even becomes tricky as certain quotas of the business and social realms are already issuing ultimatums to unvaccinated people. For instance, the government is now allowing those who are fully vaccinated to attend church making it a criminal offence for unvaccinated congregates to attend the sermon. Besides, some employers have already issued ultimatum letters to those who are not yet vaccinated. In other ways, vaccination is now being weaponised for some people to enjoy their basic rights.
“I am of the view that it is the duty of the government as a custodian of the public interests to support and ensure all the people have equitable access to information on Covid-19 vaccination. This can be done through various ways like sponsored billboards, sponsored information in local radios and newspapers, and even their official social media platforms. The public needs to know the types of vaccines in the country, and how are they being distributed and why,” said a concerned resident.
When people are fully informed about the Covid-19 vaccination ongoing, they may develop trust and can be able to make well-informed decisions about their vaccination without being subjected to indirect pressure.