This is a weekly report of COVID & vaccine sentiment, rumours & misinformation in SA. Further info here.

Download a copy of this report here

KEY TRENDS

Decline in vax conversation but increased negativity – then Omicron happened: Prior to announcement of Omicron discovery, there has been a decline in overall conversations about the vaccine on primary social media reported by different social media listening groups. Of the conversations there have been, the negative vaccine sentiment has increased by 15%. Increased negative conversation about 4th wave, booster shots and increased infection rates. Read anti-vax sentiment about this  here and anti-booster sentiment here here

Analysis from the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change: Over the last month, the overall volume of social media discussions around vaccines in SA has seen some small fluctuations but has remained steady. Vaccine scepticism and vaccine hesitancy have been the most prominent. See the graph below:

 

 

“Medical Apartheid”: There is much continuing discussion about vaccine mandates coalescing around the idea of “medical apartheid” and infringements on liberty and body autonomy. Hashtag #NoVaccinePassports being used by medical professionals here. Anti-vaccine people and pro-choice use the same arguments and they are difficult to differentiate. Anti-mandate movement, supported by several hundred Google employees signed manifesto against vaccine mandate here

Increased social mobilization against Vaccination: University of the Free State reports growing number of conversations on Facebook and Telegram that share information on how to mobilise against the vaccine. Party of Action continues to drive anti vax sentiment here, popularising mis- and disinformation including supposed number of people who died in the Pfizer trial here , here and here. Many oppose childhood vaccinations, including views that vaccinating 12 – 17 year olds is wasteful and approving of the ACDP taking the government to court to prevent vaccines here. Unity SA says a permanent lockdown is a means of controlling all of society permanently.

4th wave being “controlled’: discussion on the ‘co-incidence’ of low Covid levels during elections and increase as we go into the holidays “proves” that Covid is controlled by government or is a “hoax”. “This virus is really picky and comes Easter and Christmas to undermine the economy”. An additional rumour is that Gauteng is being punished for low ANC votes with the 4th wave, re-enforcing idea that the pandemic is manipulated by government.

Vaccine records issue continue with the National Hotline receiving many regarding on difficulties in accessing digital certificates, digital certificate failures in foreign countries, and Sisonke booster candidates not receiving SMS vouchers.

Women and Covid two reports of note include the increase of violence against women during the Covid pandemic here and heart problems suffered by women experiencing long Covid here.

SA News rooms and Covid: Concern growing around sensationalising reports driving Covid fears and anti-vax sentiment, with EWN singled out for fear mongering.  

Vaccine workshops organised by Covid Comms in communities around South Africa are oversubscribed, with over 100 people trying to attend one discussion, showing that people have interest in hearing about the vaccine and need more information. The biggest issue emerging from the workshops is trust – people see the Covid pandemic and vaccine as an opportunity for more government corruption. There are misunderstandings about how long the vaccine sticks around in your body. The Vaccine sites map released by Covid Coms has been visited by over 47,000 user in four days.

Mining communities continue to deliver high number of vaccines with 68% of miners having first vaccine and 80% of these fully vaxed. Testing on mines is twice that of the national average. Concern over growth of anti-vax WhatsApp groups spreading mining communities and increase in ‘negative and mischievous comments – not in the open’.

Department social media: National Dept of Health Twitter and Facebook pages have had over 5,200 interactions this week, much if it hostile claiming that numbers are being faked. Others said that lockdown should only apply to unvaccinated people – vaccinated should be allowed to socialize freely.

 

LOCAL / DISTRICT / PROVINCIAL ISSUES

This new section summarises social listening from areas around the country. For more information on reports from health districts, see here.

 Ekurhuleni (Gauteng): Vaccine acceptance is growing, particularly among over 50s. Questions about booster shots are being asked which causes confusion. Transport remains a challenge. Frustration about service delivery and hunger leads to sentiment that everyone deserves Vooma Vouchers, not just the over 50s. There is a general feeling of fatigue – community mobilization is harder to get enthusiasm.

  • Harry Gwala (KZN): Vaccination of children 12 – 17 is going well, with most parents supportive, particularly in rural areas. In rural areas, the elderly tend to ignore the misinformation, but youth with smart phones are more influenced by disinformation and conspiracy theories.
  • Buffalo City (Eastern Cape): The number going for vaccination is decreasing. Questions about booster shots are confusing, and transport is still inadequate to health facilities.
  • Garden route (Western Cape): Children 12 – 17 are more ready to be vaccinated than youth 18 – 34. Most over 50s have already been vaccinated – the struggle is with the youth. There have been problems with vaccine doses reaching their expiration date.
  • Bojanala (North West): Vaccination rates are improving, but fears that vaccines are ‘the work of the Devil 666’ are still circulating. There is fatigue in civil society and the health system in pushing again for increased vaccinations.
  • Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati (North West): Religious leaders are still influential opposing vaccination. Some resistance as people feel government is forcing them to vaccinate while not meeting other basic needs. There are not enough pop-up sites to cover all the villages in the area, and transport to facilities is inadequate.
  • Ehlanzeni (Mpumalanga): There is opposition as many say the government is demand they vaccinate, whereas previously they said it was people’s choice. Fear of the needle is still strong, especially among men. Many feel that Covid is man-made. Vaccine are politicized – they are seen to be for supporters of the ANC and no other party.
  • Namaqua (Western Cape): Children 12 – 17 are more receptive to vaccination than youth 18 – 34. The Vooma vouchers for over 50s were well received and did lead to more vaccination in this age group. Strong feeling that low Covid infections during the election period was politically manipulated.

 

 

MISINFORMATION

  • MISINFO: If vaccines work why is there need for a booster jab? TRUTH: Many vaccines have booster jabs, vaccine have been shown to be even more effective with a booster. See here.
  • MISINFO Being vaccinated will prevent you from becoming pregnant. TRUTH: There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including Covid vaccines, cause fertility problems (problems trying to get pregnant) in women or men. See here and here.
  • MISINFO: Planned water cuts across Gauteng are means to feed graphene oxide into the water system. TRUTH: There is no evidence to support this conspiracy claim at all. Even if bad actors did try to poison the supply they would need several thousands of tons to poison the water.  This is a conspiracy theory with not grounding in truth. See here and here.
  • MISINFO: Vaccines don’t work – if they did, they would stop us all from getting Covid to begin with. TRUTH: If you have been vaccinated you are less likely to get Covid, and if you do get Covid it will most likely be far less severe.  See here , here and here.
  • MISINFO: Covid levels were manipulated to allow the local government elections to take place. TRUTH: Levels of Covid were low in the lead up to the local government elections as the third wave of Covid declined.  Figures from NICD can be checked here.  Also government and IEC took many steps to mitigate impact. See here.
  • MISINFO: Vaccines cause infertility in men and women and hurts sexual performance. TRUTH: There is no evidence to support these claims, but getting Covid can negatively impact fertility and sexual function. See here and here and here.
  • MISINFO: Foreigners will be deported if they try and get vaccinated. TRUTH: While vulnerable people especially may be fearful, anyone in South Africa can be vaccinated, regardless of nationality. See here and here

 

PROPOSED ACTIONS FOR RISK COMMUNICATION AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

  • Community training: More talks in communities are needed to provide accurate health information on Covid and vaccines – there still is a strong need for this.
  • SANEF: Engage the SA National Editors Forum about how newsrooms manage anti-vaccination sentiment within their staff and the need for responsible reporting, especially regarding eNCA.
  • Increase NPI Communications: There is urgent need for Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions training now as the target of 70% adults vaccinated by Christmas will not happen. Emphasize the need for ventilation, small, outside gatherings.
  • New Variants: Clear communications is urgently needed around new Covid variants. Widespread communications around should flood out on new variants to reduce fear.

 

METHODOLOGY AND COLLABORATION

The Social Listening & Infodemiology team that produces this report is part of the Risk Communications & Community Engagement Working Group of the Department of Health. This report is compiled following the methodology of the WHO Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA, see here), the “Identify” stage.  We pool information from the following:

  • SA National Department of Health
  • Covid Hotline: Reports from the national Covid call centre
  • Org: NDOH Covid WhatsApp system
  • WHO Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA)
  • UNICEF: digital analysis of content on Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, and digital news
  • Red Cross: Network of over 2,000 community volunteers reporting misinformation and concerns
  • Real 411 Media Monitoring Africa: a mis- and disinformation reporting and debunking initiative
  • COVID Comms: a network of communications specialists that produces information on the pandemic
  • DOH Free State & KZN: Provincial Departments of Health
  • Community Constituency Front (CCF), Covid Hotline, Health Systems Trust
  • Centre for Communication Impact, Centre for Analytics & Behavioural Change, Section 27
  • Medical Research Council, National Institute for Communicable Diseases,
  • SA Vaccination and Immunisation Centre, HSRC, DG Murray Trust, Right To Care
  • Universities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Free State, Wits, Stellenbosch, Sefako Makgatho

 

Other organisations involved Government Communications & Information Service, SA Council of Churches, Clinton Health Access Initiative, Heartlines, Children’s Radio Foundation, IPSOS, People’s Health Movement, and Business for SA, SA Minerals Council, Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute, UN Verified, HealthEnabled, Deaf SA, SA National Council for the Blind, Treatment Action Campaign and Disability SA.

Drafting team: Charity Bhengu, Sowo Tucker, Nnete Mothibi, William Bird and Peter Benjamin.

 

Contact:
Nombulelo Leburu, National Department of Health.  Nombulelo.leburu@health.gov.za      082 444 9503
Peter Benjamin, HealthEnabled.                                peter@healthenabled.org                   082 829 3353
Charity Bhengu, National Department of Health.       charity.bhengu@health.gov.za           083 679 7424