BY TENDAI MAKARIPE
A COMBINATION of complacency and fake news dissemination contributed to the failure to achieve 60% herd immunity from Covid-19, a top government official has said.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care, targeted to vaccinate 10 million of the estimated 14 million Zimbabwean population against Covid-19 by the end of 2021.
However, by December 31, 2021, only 3 135 175 people had been fully vaccinated, 6 864 825 shy of the intended 10 million. The cumulative number of those who had received their first jab by year-end was 4 124 102 but progress towards achieving herd immunity continues to be relatively slow.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, the national coordinator of government’s response to Covid-19, Agnes Mahomva said the biggest challenge bedevilling the vaccination drive was complacency.
“Every time we are hit by a wave, people react quickly and do everything they can to get vaccinated and this often leads to an upsurge in the vaccination figures.
“However, as soon as the situation appears to normalise, people relax. They become complacent and this continues to be our biggest challenge to date,” Mahomva said
Complacency in the era of Covid-19 is not unique to Zimbabwe but is also being replayed across the globe which saw World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describe it as “the biggest threat” to the fight against the pandemic.
Mahomva also decried the impact of fake news and how it has hindered progress as far as vaccination is concerned.
“There is fake news, misinformation and disinformation being circulated through various platforms pertaining to the recent Covid-19 omicron variant. Such information has been a challenge to the vaccination drive,” Mahomva said.
The spreading of misleading information about the virus has led the global health watchdog, WHO, to warn of an ongoing “infodemic” or an overabundance of information—especially misinformation—during the epidemic. This has made it harder for people to find reliable information when needed.
In their 2021 study titled Drivers of the Third Wave of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe and Challenges for Control: Perspectives and Recommendations, health experts Grant Murewanhema and Faith Mutsigiri-Murewanhema noted that, “After a prolonged period under Covid-19 control restrictions, the population is becoming fatigued and therefore more complacent to preventive strategies. Wearing of face masks, physical distancing, and frequent hand hygiene are unnatural and tiring for many.”
“People have become tired of being confined to certain areas, are moving about more widely, and are less likely to adhere to restrictions and control measures.”
Recent studies also have discovered that belief in conspiracy theories about the virus is associated with a propensity to reject information from expert authorities.
A link was noted between belief in Covid-19 conspiracies and an increase in vaccine hesitancy in these studies. For instance, people who endorsed the conspiracy that the virus is bioengineered were less likely to report compliance with public health guidelines like staying at home and were less likely to accept a Covid-19 vaccine.
The vaccination hesitancy being experienced in the country can also be linked to issues related to efficacy, mistrust of the local healthcare system, concerns about safety and side effects, and a general lack of trust in governments and the pharmaceutical companies that developed them among others.
To ensure that the numbers of those vaccinated increase, the government intends to continue with the school vaccination programme to eligible students while at the same time stepping up community education programmes regarding vaccination.
Health experts also recommend that before vaccination is done, there is a need to understand Covid-19 knowledge and attitudes; and their association with vaccine intentions can help the targeting of strategies to increase vaccination uptake and achieve herd immunity.
“The likelihood of vaccine intentions is most strongly associated with confidence in vaccine safety. Additionally, as the vaccine rollout in Zimbabwe continues, efforts to increase Covid-19 vaccination coverage and achieve herd immunity should target females and less educated populations and be tailored to address concerns about vaccine safety and country of manufacture,” public health analyst Mufaro Kanyangarara said.