The heated exchange between activists for Covid-19 vaccination and outspoken anti-vaxxers seem to be growing in intensity. But somewhere in the middle may be thousands of people who simply have doubts.
Health For Mzansi spoke to two South Africans who decided not to get jabbed, while Food For Mzansi’s guide to common questions and vax fears can be found in this Hayi suka (with the fake news) guide.
‘It’s a lifestyle choice’
Cape Town singer and songwriter Nathan Maingard feels that getting vaccinated against Covid-19 should be considered a lifestyle choice.
Maingard says, “Indirectly forcing people to take experimental vaccines because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given them an emergency status is not morally right in my opinion. I say this because the FDA hasn’t had enough time to conduct long-term studies to prove the vaccine’s long-term effects.”
His sentiments are echoed by Nozipho Ntsingila from Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, who does not believe in vaccines at all.
‘I have never been inoculated at all’
Ntsingila claims that the government has never been on the side of the poor, and that this has been proven time and again. “My strong anti-vaccination beliefs are not new.
“My parents have never taken me to a clinic to obtain any immunisations because of their way of life. Consequently I have never been inoculated”.
“I just don’t trust the government with my life.”
Ntsingila recalls an early childhood memory where her mother had pulled her out of school when polio vaccinations became mandatory.
“We are a traditional family who have always relied on nature, herbs and the properties of organic food for our health,” she says.
“I am willing to wear my mask, sanitise and practice social distance but it ends there for me.”
A new debate about choice
Maingard says that choosing to believe we should be forced to do something, sparks a new debate.
As an example, he mentions someone who eats fast food and does not exercise. “That person places an unnecessary burden on the medical system by being unhealthy. Individuals can choose to consume healthy foods in the same way I can choose to get a jab.
“Anti-vax, pro-vax labels like that are incredibly dangerous because they minimise the complexities and nuances of individuals.
“The right of an individual to choose what to do with their bodies is sacred.”
In the meantime, the South African government, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), reputable medical professionals, community leaders and a growing number of Mzansi residents who have safely received the jab and believe that it holds the key to returning to normality, are banding together on an information campaign.
Why is vaxxing important?
Health For Mzansi reported last week on Dr Wessel Vermeulen who felt compelled to publish a clear and to-the-point rebuttal of anti-vax misinformation on Facebook. He explained how a seemingly personal choice could affect others and why widespread vaccine take-up was important.
“Vaccines remain one of the most effective ways to fight diseases. Just think of childhood diseases, and that a disease such as measles that has killed millions of people for centuries due to successful herd immunity has been virtually eradicated. Dangerous diseases such as polio and whooping cough that can cause you to die and become paralysed have been stopped in their tracks.
“Those who do not want to vaccinate themselves not only endanger themselves, but everyone around them as well. They serve as reservoirs where viruses can remain active and even mutate and become even more deadly, even for vaccines.
“Data right now shows that new variants such as Delta and Lambda are more transmissible, mutate faster and can be more lethal, and may develop increasing and varying capabilities to circumvent existing vaccines.
“Vaccination is voluntary and in my opinion a privilege – and offers you and your fellow man a greater chance of survival. The benefits associated with it are simply much greater than the appalling consequences of the very dangerous and cunning virus.
On vaccine safety he continued, “Virtually all medications can and do have side effects that can be minimal or even life-threatening. However, scientists and physicians weigh the benefits and salvages of medications against the potential dangers.
“The technique of using messenger RNA and DNA is not new and untested as quasi-experts claim – it was already researched in 1990 and specifically on other corona outbreaks such as the swine and bird flu.”
More on vaccine safety
Researchers from Wits University recently published an online piece in which they responded to common myths about the vaccine. Here are three excerpts around safety:
Side effects: Several studies have been conducted since the start of the pandemic that have measured South Africans’ perceptions of vaccine issues. A recent study by the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa found that of the respondents who did not want to be vaccinated, 25% were concerned about side-effects.
Most of the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are mild. They include low-grade fever, sore arm and fatigue, and these usually subside after one to three days.
Rare side effects such as blood clots have been reported from the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The chances of experiencing this side effect are low. The risks of blood clots as a result of COVID-19 infection are 8-10 times higher than risks associated with the vaccine. Doctors are aware of this concern and are trained to identify and treat the condition quickly.
A recent article by Healthline – a medically reviewed and fact-checked website – compared the benefits and risks of being vaccinated with those of contracting COVID-19. Lung damage is a complication of COVID-19 while muscle fatigue can be a side effect of the vaccine. This risk-benefit decision is left to the individual to make, but vaccinations have been proven to be safe.
Rushed development: The vaccine was developed very quickly. This was possible because the vaccine technology had been in development for many years. When the genetic information of SARS-CoV-2 was identified, the process could begin quickly. There were sufficient resources to fund the research and social media made it easier to recruit participants for the clinical trials. Because SARS-CoV-2 is contagious, it was easy to tell whether the vaccine worked or not.
Altering DNA: The messenger RNA vaccine (Pfizer) and the viral vector vaccine (Johnson and Johnson) cause your body to develop protection, so that when you are infected by SARS-CoV-2, your body is prepared to fight the virus. DNA is located in the nucleus of your cells and the vaccine material does not enter the nucleus. So it does not alter the DNA.