Anti-vax fake news spreaders should face prosecution, says health minister Joe Phaahla

Anti-vaccine campaigners, such as those who recently protested outside Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, should face prosecution, says health minister Joe Phaahla. File photo.
Anti-vaccine campaigners, such as those who recently protested outside Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, should face prosecution, says health minister Joe Phaahla. File photo.
Image: Mike Hutchings

People who spread fake news about Covid-19 vaccinations should face criminal charges, health minister Joe Phaahla said on Tuesday.

Briefing the National Council of Provinces on progress in the fight against the pandemic, Phaahla said disaster regulations contain a provision making disseminating fake news a criminal offence.

“Working with the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, the police and the National Prosecuting Authority, we’re going to have to look at that,” he said.

More than countering fake news, including “videos claiming everyone who is vaccinated will be dead in two years’ time”, said Phaahla, “we should be bringing in law enforcement to look at that”.

The fact that much of the fake news was on video meant it would be easy to identify culprits, said the minister, adding the fake news campaign to discredit vaccinations was “very strong, orchestrated and organised”.

“In some cases, even health professionals are part of this,” he said.

Phaahla acknowledged the health department’s response to fake news has been weak and dramatic improvement is needed.

“We believe vaccine hesitancy needs a multidimensional approach and what is often referred to as transmitting the same message in different voices and in a different way.

“We need to improve a lot more, especially on radio with all the languages,” he said.

He said a number of media houses had offered their assistance at no cost.

“Ten days ago I had a meeting with a team from the MultiChoice group which was offering availability of their TV platforms, including sport platforms, to transmit messages in support of vaccination,” he said.

“This would include bringing in sports stars. I saw the SABC brought in one of our soccer stars, Simphiwe Tshabalala, to promote vaccination.

“He was vaccinated in the SABC sport studio in public, and we hope more people of his stature will come forward. There are many sports stars and musicians who are willing to come forward in the same way.”

Phaahla said new evidence was continually emerging about the effectiveness of vaccinations.

“We are not theorising when we say vaccines are saving lives. We have seen it in health workers and we are seeing indications that among teachers very few have been falling sick.

“That is the kind of news we continuously need to package and ensure it reaches everybody.”

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