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Thursday, 18 March 2021

We need to vaccinate the mind before we vaccinate the body

The fight against COVID-19 is said to become a challenge in education as well.

By Ahmed Banderker, CEO of the AfroCentric Group

Our President has entrusted us with a mission. While some would call it mission impossible, most of us would agree that we have no choice but to succeed in it. The mission, should we choose to accept it, is to count ourselves among 42 million vaccinated South Africans before the end of 2021. Should we reject this mission, the nation's health both physical and economic will continue to decline.
Data from fintech company, CompariSure recently revealed that 52% of South Africans wouldn't take the vaccine even if it was handed to them on a silver platter. If we ever want to attain the fabled ‘population immunity' our President called for in our last family meeting, then 52% of South Africans are set to dash those dreams against the rocks in a storm of ignorance.

The IPSOS December 2020 survey also showed that 47% of the SA population are not keen on being vaccinated against COVID-19

Having worked in the healthcare industry for a number of years, I have gained an immense respect for this industry and the millions of masterful minds that make it move. In my interactions with these people of passion and progress, I have learned to trust their experience and put my faith in the fact that the vast majority of them have dedicated their lives to advancing healthcare.

So, for all those who may still be in doubt, let's put some perspective on this.  More than 32.4 million vaccine doses have been administered in 45 countries around the world.

Do you remember when you had smallpox? Probably not, because the last case of smallpox was detected in 1972.

How about polio? Unless you are over the age of 45, it's probably not something you have ever thought about, since the disease was declared eradicated in 1979.

Have you seen anyone with measles lately? It is estimated that 1.1 million children would be dying from measles every year if it wasn't for vaccine immunisation. In 2019, that number was 140,000 – but only because of the barriers of accessibility, not the effectiveness of the vaccine.

On African soil, meningitis was such a serious concern in 25 countries, that they were collectively known as the "African Meningitis Belt". In 1996, there was a devastating outbreak that caused 25,000 deaths. Thanks to a public-private partnerships called the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), incidents of meningitis were reduced by 94% following a mass immunisation campaign in West Africa.

All of this was only made possible due to the mass roll out of scientifically formulated vaccines.
The world needs the COVID-19 vaccines. Africa needs these vaccines.

Before we start questioning the validity of the COVID-19 vaccines, remember that these vaccinations are perhaps one of the greatest medical achievements in the last century. It is a feat that has involved an entire world of scientists, industries and governments working towards a singular goal. This kind of collaboration has never been seen before. Instead of unwarranted scrutiny for the doctors you have always entrusted your life with, how about some admiration for what has been achieved to date?

These vaccines have gone through all the stages of vaccine development including rigorous human trials. The vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, went through three phases of clinical trials. The third phase involved more than 43,000 volunteers to test the vaccine proving the vaccine to be 95% effective in preventing the development of COVID-19. If you are wary of international interests, know that our own South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) will be ensuring these vaccines are in the best interest of all South Africans.

As President Ramaphosa himself said in a recent interview, "I am no scientist, therefore we take advice and guidance from those who are well versed and trained."

Yes, the rollout plan may be ambitious and a logistical challenge, but regardless, the vaccine rollout will be dead in the water if South Africans cannot be convinced to trust it in the first place. What can we do about this?

Let's start with some words of wisdom from a leader that is universally respected. It was Nelson Mandela who said: "Education is the most powerful weapon which can be used to change the world".

So many problems in our society emerge from a lack of education. Unemployment, crime, financial insecurity can all be linked to education – at least for the most part. The same goes for the current health crisis. Without the right knowledge, critical thought is turned into conspiratorial disarray and we all know that bad news travels faster than good.

It is now up to every man, woman, private and public organisation to help spread the message. Before we can vaccinate the body, we need to vaccinate the mind and it starts with education.

We need to establish a comprehensive programme for education of the general public about how vaccines work. This should be run by both the state and civil society as a task force of regulatory and social scientists, media and educational experts. And it needs to be set up as a matter of extreme urgency through all available and appropriate channels of communication.

At AfroCentric, we will be:

  • Developing "myth busting" educational videos for our client schemes and corporates to place on their websites, mobile applications and make accessible via links in email and SMS communications providing accurate scientific information on how vaccines work; who is eligible for a vaccine (those over 18 years of age); the benefits of being vaccinated and what to expect after having had a vaccine.
  • Our team of over 3000 registered nurses, who visit employer groups on a weekly or monthly basis, will be delivering educational talks and encouraging all employees to participate in the campaign.
  • We will be counselling each and every participant before administering a vaccine (taking them through a checklist) on what to expect and what symptoms to look out for so they know when to consult with their Doctor.
  • Our team of virtual care nurses will also be made available for an on-line virtual face-to-face consultation should a participant require additional support e.g. showing areas of redness or swelling (normal post vaccination) etc.

A global effort has led to the successful development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. A concerted effort from all of us will therefore remain key in fulfilling the optimum rollout of this vaccination drive.

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