'South Africans not just vaccine hesitant, they're apathetic,' says top vaccinologist
Expert vaccinologist Prof Shabir Madhi says one of the main things holding back South Africans from getting vaccinated is not just hesitancy, but apathy.
Madhi was sharing his insights during a Mail & Guardian webinar on Monday. With the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, SA is grappling with the question of whether to make vaccinations mandatory.
“There’s a difference between forcing someone and making it mandatory. It’s not about individual choice but how it affects everything else. It needs to be put in the context of exercising rights and the overall risk to the entire environment.
“There can be a parting of ways if people choose not to be vaccinated.
“I believe one of the issues holding South Africans back from vaccinating is not just hesitancy, but apathy,” he said.
Madhi said though the rest of the world had acted against SA on the discovery and announcement of the variant, it was important for information on a disease evolving to be shared in real time.
“When they can’t contextualise they make premature conclusions of its intention.
“We need more measured communication and we must put it into context when new variants emerge. Also more consultations among stakeholders so that public announcements are aligned with shared data on new variants as with Omicron,” he said.
He said that while herd immunity had become nothing but an aspiration, the work must continue.
“Herd immunity is something that has passed us. It’s when people are uninfected with the virus and cannot pass it on to others. It’s a possibility that the pandemic will become an endemic, rather than it being eliminated completely.
“If you’re trying to do protection against infection, it might be necessary to do booster vaccines every year. But that approach is not practical because vaccination is for protection against severe disease and death.
“To protect against severe disease you might need to boost every year. Certain people might require it, like healthcare workers,” he said.
Madhi said it could not be emphasised more, vaccination is the only way people will not end up hospitalised, dead, or transmitting the virus.
Earlier, health minister Joe Phaahla said there was no need for people to panic about the new variant because the country was prepared to deal with it.
The government is engaging several countries which imposed travel bans against SA to reverse that “unwarranted” decision, he added.
“We want to reiterate that there is absolutely no need to panic. There is just no basis for some of the leaders of countries that have imposed travel restrictions for us in SA and other countries in Southern Africa.
“There is no basis for South Africans to panic. We have been here before, this is no new territory for us. We now have more than 20 months experience in terms of Covid-19, various variants and waves,” Phaahla said.
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