Finally there is positive news to come from the science world; although the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or coronavirus (COVID-19) has ravaged and altered global activities, today there are vaccines with promise and one (Pfizer-BioNtech) is already in use since 08-December-2020. Care must be taken as countries continue to record high daily death figures (3,053 deaths in the USA on 10-Dec-2020) and an unconfirmed spike in cases in Bulawayo has been reported.
Great leaders emerge in times of uncertainty, confusion and loss to give direction. Amidst conflicting and confusing views about Covid-19, the Mthwakazi movement must show both maturity and leadership to direct the public. Comparing Covid-19 with flue is reckless and irresponsible, it poses risk to public health. Ignorance is not the best way of maintaining calm or protecting our people or promoting public health.
We recognise that for practical reasons Mthwakazi movements’ abilities may be limited; we are not in government and not in control of public health policy. However, we are part of the affected and interested public. There is no cause not to work towards finding a role from which we can help promote public health. It is also important that in so doing we avoid unnecessary clashes at the contentious intersection of science and politics.
Fundamental to our involvement will be taking a position that does not interfere with the smooth running of the process. We are clear that public health is an evidence-based profession dedicated to improving health and preventing disease. We are politicians, and as politicians we do not make decisions on clinical interventions but oversee a process that determines how public policy decisions are made by elected officials.
Our most effective role will be in the information dissemination; making government health information available across the region in accessible formats. Globally, the main problem has been conspiracy theorists (anti-vaxxers) passing misinformation and disinformation, be it on the extent of the risks presented by COVID-19 to public health or risks about vaccines. We need to work closely with public health officials to counter disinformation around the COVID-19 vaccines.
Evidence indicates rapid increase of misleading information on online and social media platforms. The WHO has warned of an unprecedented online spread of false information about COVID-19. A survey of 1,663 commissioned by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that around 1 in 6 British people polled were unlikely to agree to being vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, and a further 1 in 6 people had yet to make up their mind. Significantly, the survey found that individuals who relied on social media for information on the COVID-19 pandemic were more hesitant about the potential vaccine.
In another poll, around 33 percent of respondents to a six-country survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reported accessing “…false or misleading” information about COVID-19 on social media in the week leading to the survey.
An anti-vaxxer is a person who is against vaccination for a variety of reasons. The anti-vaxxers are making themselves heard but providing no evidence to back their fears and rejection of the vaccines; there is no effort to find evidence or proof but simply an eagerness to display their ignorance.
The biggest concern to public health is that these conspiracy theorists spreading dangerous myths and falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines while promoting discredited treatments or drugs are spread around the globe and come from all sorts of professional backgrounds, including medical practitioners, religious leaders, spiritual leaders, celebrities, politicians, etc.
It is apparent that our movements would do well to target the online and social media where conspiracy theorists are planting a seed of doubt about the COVID-19 vaccines. We note wild allegations against high profile personalities such as Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, accusing him of hatred towards black people and that the vaccine is intended to manage the black people population who will be targeted with these supposedly ‘unsafe’ vaccines.
Herein we make the Mthwakazi public aware that the British government started its vaccination programme on 8 December 2020, and more significant the first person to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was an elderly white lady.
If there have been any recommendations that black people be among those who receive the vaccine first in the USA, these have been based on the clinical information that suggests high fatality rates among the elderly people, people with underlying health conditions, black American and Latino populations compared to other population groups. Reasons for the vulnerability vary, from pre-existing health issues to poor living conditions to high exposure due to types of jobs people are employed in.
What Mthwakazi movements need to do is inform the public of what is happening locally and across the globe with regard to the vaccination programme, but at the end of the day ‘my body, my choice’ is the approach we advocate for. No one should feel pressured to take or not to take the vaccine. Mthwakazi citizens should have the freedom to take the COVID vaccine; Mthwakazi people should also have the freedom to decline the vaccine.