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 voices throughout South Africa, not just the people who are already ‘loud’ in social & broadcast media (see the note on methodology and collaboration below).
- Vaccine demand exceeds supply, more people want to be vaccinated than supply and logistics allow.
- Priorities: Address vaccine access for elderly, and compliance with NPIs in youth.
- Considerable interest in Digital Vibes story, Minister Mkhize being on special leave and appointment of acting Minister of tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane (questioning her medical experience, ).
- Considerable worry about supply of vaccines and slowness of rollout .
- Concerns about it being the FDA (US institution) that decides on authorising use of J&J vaccine in Eastern Cape. This has hugely increased with the news that the J&J vaccines in SA will be discarded.
- Concern at many problems with EVDS
- Concern about Covid affecting high school learning, infections in children, keeping schools opening, vaccinating teachers.
- A major problem is lack of compliance among youth to non-pharmaceutical interventions. There have been many reports of parties without physical distancing.
- Concern about widespread lack of information on Covid-19 (here). Many reports of officials and community leaders (e.g. councillors, religious leaders) not knowing enough about Covid-19 to inform their community.
- Great interest in vaccine information (330,000 Facebook interactions, up from 270,000 last week).
- General support for Walk-In vaccinations being available in many clinics.
- Several churches show resistance to vaccines as Western medicine, and whether cleansing is possible.
- Covid Hotline call centre: Most calls are on frustration with EVDS, registration and vaccination process. People not getting SMS; Unsure about Walk-Ins; Some under 60 being sent appointment by SMS, then turned away from clinic; People being told to go to clinics far away.
- Second largest topic of calls are about difficulties elderly people have with not being able to access vaccination sites due to poverty, disability and logistical problems.
- Preference for Pfizer vaccine due to many worries about the J&J vaccine.
RUMOURS AND MISINFORMATION CIRCULATING (adapted from the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance) Many rumours are repeated from previous weeks. New ones gaining traction this week are in bold.
- Many rumours on “Fauci emails” and SARS-CoV-2 coming from a laboratory leak in Wuhan (2 of top 5 tweets in SA).
- One myth still circulating widely is that vaccination places a magnetised tracking device in your arm (with images of metal sticking to the vaccination site). Google searches for “vaccine magnet” up 750%.
- Masks are useless and Covid-19 is a planned money making scheme .
- Increase in phishing (fraudulent scams) regarding grant payments.
- Claim (in Afrikaans) that life insurance companies won’t pay out if you have been vaccinated.
- Anti-vaxxers likening mass vaccinations to a silent holocaust.
- Vaccination is a plan to depopulate Africa. Africans are being used as lab rats to test vaccines.
- Improve EVDS, fix bugs in the system reported above and start sending SMS out to confirm people have been registered. Clarify walks-in practice, i.e. when & where it is happening, and how can people find out.
- Consider campaign to enlist 1,000s of “Covid champions” to spread evidence-based information on Covid-19 to their family, friends & community.
- Build a coalition of Youth organisations to actively promote understanding and compliance to NPIs among youth, including loveLife, SACC & Churches, Higher Health, Covid Comms, UN Verified Zwakala Campaign and UNICEF.
- Collaborate further with those with experience of HIV-related societal shifts, such as DOH HIV units, loveLife, Soul City. Messaging on “Safe socialising” under Covid, similar to “safe sex” with HIV.
- Work more closely with Churches and other faith-based organisations, such as SACC. Consider using churches as vaccination sites (complying with medical regulations), especially to reach elderly population. Consider early vaccination for religious leaders who are hugely influential in their congregation.
- Provincial DOH should prioritise education of local leaders including councillors and traditional leaders about Covid-19, vaccination and NPIs.
- Explore transport subsidies for elderly to vaccination sites with taxi associations (SANTACO and others).
- 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.
- Report anti-vaxx doctors to the Health Professions Council of SA.
- Offer free Panado (paracetamol) after vaccination. It’s a small price to greatly reduce frustration.
NOTE ON METHODOLOGY AND COLLABORATION
This report is compiled following the methodology of the WHO Africa Infodemic Response Alliance, 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.
We pool 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 (AIRA).
- 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 is a network of communications specialists that produces and disseminates credible, easily understood and helpful information on the coronavirus pandemic.
- Free State DOH: Provincial Dept of Health in collaboration with the University of the Free State.
- Covid Hotline: Reports from the Covid call centre.
- Praekelt Foundation: Runs the NDOH Covid WhatsApp system.
- Centre for Communication Impact, Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change, Section 27.
- Medical Research Council, National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
- Researchers at Universities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Free State; HSRC; IPSOS.
Other organisations involved: SA Council of Churches, Clinton Health Access Initiative, Heartlines, Health Systems Trust, Children’s Radio Foundation and HealthEnabled.
More information and the background reports that fed into this document are available on request.