Why many Africans are wary of COVID-19 vaccines

A few African countries have begun vaccinating populations for COVID-19. Despite campaigns and assurances that the vaccines are safe, many people are worried about potential side effects.

Since Ghana recorded its first case in March 2020, the health worker Kobby Blay has been on the call for COVID-19 cases, but now he is taking time off to encourage Ghanaians to receive vaccines.

Ghana was the first recipient nation of COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX initiative, which seeks to help poorer countries procure and secure vaccines. On Monday, Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, received the vaccine as the government rolled out a nationwide inoculation campaign.

Akufo-Addo urged citizens not to heed conspiracy theories about the jab, saying: “Taking the vaccine will not alter your DNA, it will not embed a tracking device in your body, neither will it cause infertility in women or men.”

But many people remain sceptical about the safety of vaccines. These doubts are borne out of conspiracy theories claiming the vaccines are meant to harm Africans.

Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo being vacinated.

The president urged Ghanaians to take ignore conspiracy theories and receive the vaccine

Fighting conspiracy theories online

Blay has spent months providing care for COVID-19 patients and is now using social media to run a campaign to defuse bogus claims and encourage people to receive the vaccine. “I have seen the pain of patients, I have seen the agony, and I have seen how COVID is breaking families apart,” Blay told DW. “It is causing financial difficulties for some people.”

When the vaccines became the obvious way out of the pandemic, Blay intensified his campaigns, focusing on defusing myths and skepticism. “Conspiracy theories have always existed. They have always existed since the advent of medical treatment,” Blay said.

“What is a vaccine? What does the vaccine do? How does it work? People are not doing this. Even professionals who are supposed to know better are vesting time in sharing conspiracies than the science of the game.”

In spite of a rising number of infections and hospitalizations, surveys conducted in Ghana have found that a significant number of people are reluctant to receive vaccines. Ghana’s president was even forced to react to these claims, but many are still hesitant.

Data visualization COVID-19 New Cases Per Capita – 2021-03-03 – Africa - English

Blay said he couldn’t stand aloof and not help put minds to rest concerning the safety of vaccines. He continues to endure sleepless nights providing vital information to his followers on social media.  “This is a situation which should have been addressed with an emergency helpline. Unfortunately, our emergency helpline as a country is not prompt, so I think this is what we can also do to bridge that gap.”

Lack of clarity on the vaccine

As the vaccination program picks up speed in South Africa, so has the resistance to jabs. Some describe the vaccine as a “jab of death,” while some call it a “depopulation pill.”

Nomazulu Dlamini, a Johannesburg graduate, told DW that the lack of clarity around the efficacy and the composition of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine currently being administered in the country were reasons enough for her not to trust it.

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