Govt is struggling to debunk claims that vaccines – all vaccines – are a govt conspiracy

Business Insider SA
A protest against vaccine passports in Cape Town, in October 2021. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
A protest against vaccine passports in Cape Town, in October 2021. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

  • The monkeypox outbreak in Europe and North America is contributing to generalised vaccine distrust in South Africa, the department of health says.
  • Pushback against vaccines is now also being seen in regards to the standard childhood vaccination schedule.
  • Gauteng recently had an outbreak of measles.
  • The government approach to the belief that the government is conspiring against its citizens, fuelled in part by government's promotion of vaccines, is more government messaging on vaccines.
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The monkeypox outbreak in Europe and America – which has, so far, not affected South Africa in any other way – is helping to drive vaccine mistrust, the department of health says.

And that mistrust is increasingly directed at vaccines broadly, including the standard childhood immunisations intended to protect against some of the most dangerous diseases that may affect children. 

"More people are questioning why all disease outbreaks should be contained by vaccines," a health department team said in a regular social listening report this week

Chatter around monkeypox included claims that it was a tool for governments to "control people and violate human rights", the department said.

The end of a compassionate-use access mechanism for ivermectin treatment of Covid-19 was also folded into conspiracy theories, specifically that the government was denying ivermectin in order to force vaccinations. 

One district in the Northern Cape reported that parents and guardians were reluctant to allow their children to be vaccinated, while school children in Johannesburg feel "conflicted about vaccines".

As the perceived danger of Covid-19 wanes, continued government efforts to promote vaccines appear to be viewed increasingly askance. 

"The social media narrative that the government is trying to control people through vaccines has resurfaced despite the many efforts to debunk this false claim," said the social monitoring team.

The approach to that problem will remain the same: more information from the government.

"We will continue to reinforce facts on vaccines," said the department. 

As of Thursday evening, 45.76% of South Africa's adult population was recorded as fully vaccinated against Covid-19, far short of the herd-immunity target, and new vaccinations continue to slow.

Gauteng warned of an outbreak of measles this week. Measles is highly contagious, but long-term data on the standard vaccines against it shows efficacy of between 97% and 99% after two doses.

A major measles outbreak was predicted in late 2020, due to childhood vaccinations paused during pandemic lockdowns. 

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