This is a weekly report of Covid & vaccine concerns, rumours and misinformation in SA prepared by the RCCE Social Listening and Infodemiology team. We aim to hear all voices in South Africa, not just the people who are already ‘loud’ in social & broadcast media (see the note on methodology and collaboration below).

 

KEY TRENDS

  • Positive sentiment about vaccinations for over 60s in Phase 2 of the rollout. There’s great appreciation of the immunisations of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop Lekganyane and other respected elders.
  • Vaccine hesitancy is not a problem, at least for now: demand for vaccinations currently exceeds supply. Instead, there is ‘vaccine eagerness’ and some people have ‘vaccine frustration’ who qualify and want to get vaccinated but cannot yet.
  • The “Digital Vibes” story undermines public trust in communications and National Department of Health.
  • Confusion about registration for vaccinations and SMS: difficulties with EVDS, scheduling (not receiving SMS so might not be registered properly, not knowing how long a person should wait after registration without getting an SMS, unclear why some people are scheduled before others), people scheduled to facilities far away, little notice given in SMS before appointments (e.g. in an hour).
  • Frustration on unclear and changing process: are walk-ins allowed?; variation between provinces, between public & private, between facilities, sometimes between one day & the next.
  • Growing anger about lack of equity, fairness and abuse of power especially by politicians & ‘influencers’ using privilege to get vaccination. Assertive people with access to internet and a car can ‘jump the queue’; the less advantaged, especially elderly people without assistance, not speaking English, rural, without internet access or a smart phone are being ‘left behind’, which could be deadly with the 3rd wave starting.
  • The Covid hotline is appreciated, the operators are polite, but can’t fully answer questions on process.
  • Fear of adverse events of vaccination, especially clots, but this is reducing as many people are vaccinated in SA without incident.
  • Fears that SA won’t have enough vaccines (hence increased fear of not getting one soon).
  • Concerns that healthworkers are being ignored who are under 60 & weren’t vaccinated by Sisonke trial.

 

RUMOURS & MISINFORMATION CIRCULATING (adapted from the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance) Fairly few (at most 10%) of the SA population believe in Covid and vaccine hoaxes and misinformation.

  • Vaccines are used to track people’s movements / create magnetism / will kill people in 2 years (fake news reports of Noble Prize winner Luc Montagnier, and Former Pfizer VP Michael Yeadon are circulating); mRNA vaccines reprogramme people’s DNA.
  • Reports of adverse events after vaccinations (often with gruesome pictures). Vaccinations cause: Covid, rashes, infertility, heart inflammation in teenagers, depression, inability to walk and much more.
  • Information on adverse events after vaccination are being supressed so people do not get scared.
  • Nurses’ union DENOSA says nurses are not allowed to report adverse events after vaccinations.
  • Herbs are better than vaccines; Ivermectin is a cure for Covid.
  • Vaccination is a plan to depopulate Africa. Africans are being used as lab rats to test vaccines.
  • Vaccines won’t stop the need for protective measures, so why bother?
  • The Covid-19 pandemic / the third wave has been planned to intentionally kill people.

NOTE: There are registered medical doctors in SA promoting Covid-denial and vaccination resistance.

When there is confusion and a lack of communication, then damaging rumours, hoaxes and misinformation fill the gaps and can easily spread. Consistent clear accessible official communication is vital. Make it easier for everyone to find good accurate information than rumours and misinformation.

SUGGESTED ACTIONS

  • Improvements to EVDS are needed. Send regular (weekly?) SMS updates to registered people on what to expect, when their appointment could be and how appointments are scheduled (even if it’s just a holding message).
  • Clarify the process for Phase 2 and ensure it is followed by all vaccination sites, public and private. Clarify who gets vaccinated first, walk-ins, no queue jumping or preferential treatment to ensure equity. Train the hotline staff in the details of this plan so they can easily answer questions.
  • Communicate this process widely, clearly and repeatedly across all major media platforms, preferably with a televised speech by President Ramaphosa.
  • Manage expectations and be honest (how long process may take, possible side effects, equity issues, admit mistakes). Widely circulate the hotline number and how to report an adverse event after vaccination.
  • Build trust by daily updates on vaccination rollout, have counters showing how vaccination programme is scaling by province, which increases trust in the capacity of government to run the rollout.
  • Make better use of SABC, especially African language radio stations. Engage community media.
  • June SASSA pension grant payout this week is a key opportunity to reach the elderly. Urgently mobilise and train volunteers, CHWs, SAPOS staff, retail staff at all payout points. Provide these workers with materials, management and, if needed, stipends & connectivity. People can register on paper while in queues and then the data should be captured later onto the EVDS system. Volunteers need to be able to give a clear message about what pensioners can expect and do once registered.
  • Develop and widely circulate a glossary of Covid-19 terms in all 11 languages to make communication easier throughout SA. Send to media outlets (national, local and community) and offer training in usage.
  • For the anti-vaccine SA medical doctors, consider reporting to the Health Professions Council of SA.

 

NOTE ON METHODOLOGY AND COLLABORATION

This report is compiled following the methodology of the WHO Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (see here), Step One to “Identify” information gaps and misinformation. This Social Listening & Infodemiology team is part of the Risk Communications & Community Engagement Working Group of the National Department of Health.

It pools information from the following sources and organisations:

  • SA National Department of Health: DHIS2 reports and NDOH social media interaction.
  • World Health Organization (WHO) Africa Infodemic Response Alliance.
  • Unicef: digital analysis of content on Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, and digital news.
  • Red Cross: Network of 2,000 community volunteers reporting misinformation and concerns.
  • Real411 Media Monitoring Africa: a mis- and disinformation reporting and response system.
  • Covid Comms: Produces media content on Covid, working with the SABC and many others.
  • Covid Call Centre (Right To Care): Reports from the Covid call centre.
  • Praekelt Foundation: Running the NDOH Covid WhatsApp system.
  • Centre for Communication Impact.
  • Section 27.
  • Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change.
  • Researchers at Universities of Johannesburg, Cape Town; HSRC; IPSOS.

Other organisations involved: Clinton Health Access Initiative, NICD, Children’s Radio Foundation and HealthEnabled.

More information and the background reports that fed into this document are available on request. This report comes out every Monday morning.

Contacts:
National Department of Health, rumours@health.gov.za

Peter Benjamin, HealthEnabled, peter@healthenabled.org 082 829 3353