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This is a weekly report of the RCCE Social Listening and Infodemic Management team on COVID-19 vaccine and other health emergencies concerns, sentiments, rumours, and misinformation in South Africa. It provides an analysis of online and offline content. Thanks to all who contribute to this report each week.



Persistent claims about COVID-19 The vaccination and booster dose campaign continue to remind people that vaccination remains the bedrock for controlling and preventing the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. The COVID-19 testing and surveillance efforts have intensified (Here) However, those who still believe COVID-19 had long ended said; “you guys are still flogging that dead horse?” (Here)

Mixed reaction about XBB1.5. More than 200 sublineages of Omicron have been detected in South Africa, including the XBB 1,5 sublineage. (Here) While many people are asking about their turn for booster doses to add a layer of protection, some remain sceptical. “They say the new variant affects both vaccinated and unvaccinated, so why should we bother.” (Here)I will only go for my 5th vaccination when the latest and updated Bivalent Booster becomes available in South Africa”. (Here)

Panic about the China situation. An alert was issued that there was no need for public panic as the country was closely monitoring the situation and urged people to vaccinate and get booster shots to enhance their immunity against variants and sub-variants of the pandemic. (Here).However, the people on social media are divided on the issue. “no need to talk about vaccines if there is no need for panic”, “confusing us”, Others were concerned that “most of the time we are told not to panic and afterwards there’s a disaster.” (Here).

A push for travel bans on China. Many people are still pushing government to impose restrictions on travelers from other countries. (Here)Why has South Africa not placed a travel ban on China for COVID?” (Here).  “How about screening flights from China instead of harping on about masks, sanitizers, etc. We all know the drill by now”.(Here) Others said a travel ban should also be imposed on travelers from USA. “This mutation is made in USA. Why are people not vocal about halting flights from the US especially when it was super quick to ban South Africa when they suspected the virus might have mutated here.” (Here) The use of PCR (72hrs) test at all border posts and airports instead of a ban should be encouraged to curb the spread”. (Here)

Renewed interest in COVID masks. The XBB.1.5 sublineage generated more engagement about COVID-19 masks on social media.Guys, abuyile ama-masks (masks are back), but we will wear them as long as there’s no travel ban”, “People should now normalize wearing of mask and sanitizing every time and social distance. That’s the life we live now. I don’t know why they stopped people because COVID has never gone anywhere, it’s still with us.” (Here) “Screen the flights instead of harping on about masks, sanitizers, etc., we all know the drill by now” (Here) Others pushed for the NPIs. “Just wear masks, avoid crowds and sanitize extra, no vaccines.” (Here) “I won’t go for jabs.” (Here) “All the vaccine companies have an agenda to depopulate”. (Here)

Ongoing frustrations about EVDS. There are still negative claims about EVDS that it has not been updated to allow the immune-compromised to get their AD-IC dose. “Your EVDS is not allowing the AD-IC dose. You need to update this, please.(Here)  “You need to update EVDS system is not allowing us. Don’t promote an additional dose for immune-compromised if EVDS and your clinics won’t provide it!” (Here) Others saying government should focus on those willing to vaccinate. “Please let the immune-compromised individuals get a second COVID booster dose 5, it’s more than six months since their 4th dose. If other people don’t want the vaccines, let us protect ourselves.” (Here)

Confusion about booster dose timing. Most people enquired about the timing of their doses. “I was vaccinated with Johnson and Johnson at the clinic. I got jabbed with a booster at work. Should I get another booster since I have a chronic condition?” (Here)I had 3 shots. I am in my 30’s, also got COVID in 2020. Should I get the 4th shot?” (Here) “I am also interested to know because after my first and last jab of Pfizer last year, I never took a booster dose.”(Here) Others were interested to know about the number of times one should take a booster dose in a lifetime considering its protection wanes after 6 months. “How many times should we vaccinate and how many boosters?” (Here) “How many vaccine boosters does someone have to take? I am due for a booster shot next month.” (Here)  


Information gaps claims. People were very critical about the information we share on measles outbreak,. They said it was “important to communicate symptoms of measles” when advising parents and caregivers to consult a doctor or go to a clinic when suspecting that a child has measles. Seen as difficult to action with no full information, the message posted (Here), states; “Call your doctor straight away if you suspect your child has measles or been in contact with someone who has measles especially if your child is an infant or has tuberculosis, cancer or a disease that affects the immune system.”(Here)

Measles vaccine shortages claims. There were complaints about stock outages of measles vaccines in Gauteng. “Mandela Sisulu Clinic in Phefeni does not have 6 and 12 year olds immunization.” (Here) The matter has since been addressed by the Johannesburg Health District and Department of Health. (Here) The sentiments included “As this is the largest outbreak in the last decade”, the measles campaign should be more visible, “intensify the immunization and booster drive(Here) and vaccinate all contacts regardless of the age. (Here) Some did not care, and asked if we ”can’t you deal with something else.” (Here)

Confusion about catchup drive. There were also questions about children who had already received their full immunization on whether they were also supposed to receive a booster dose. Engagement on social media included; “immunity to the measles virus could be attained through contracting the virus or vaccination. Furthermore, that there was no need to vaccinate the child again if they were fully vaccinated against the virus, and that waning immunity in persons vaccinated was uncommon”. (Here) Others encouraged parents to make amends, “it is never too late to catch-up on vaccination. (Here)


Claim that TB affects HIV+ persons only: Someone posted that TB affects only HIV positive persons. (Here) Several people quickly dismissed the claim as ignorance. “Well, I’m not HIV positive and recently had TB and COVID together and was very sick?(Here) However, someone warned people against “new mRNA based treatment, saying “Good ventilation Is essential to limit TB”. (Here)


MISINFO: There  is no need to vaccinate the child again if they were fully vaccinated against the measles virus here TRUTH: Yes, the child will receive an additional measles dose during the national measles catchup campaign and contacts will also be vaccinated.

MISINFO: Long covid is long-term side effects of COVID vaccines.  TRUTH: No evidence to support this claim.  Long covid is caused by COVID not covid vaccines.  See here, here and here.

MISINFO: A New variant of COVID Omicron BA2.75 is more infectious and deadly than the current Omicron 5 variant.  TRUTH: Only one case in July in South Africa, and not enough known about BA 2.75.  Most cases in South Africa are Omicorn 5.  See here and here.

MISINFO: Covid vaccines cause heart attacks and inflammation of the heart.  TRUTH:  While there are some cases of inflammation of the heart (myocarditis, the risk is very low, see here) There is no evidence to support claims that covid vaccines directly cause heart attacks.  See here.  

MISINFO: COVID vaccinations make you more susceptible to serious illness and death and most COVID deaths now are triple vaccinated people.   TRUTH: No evidence to support these claims.  More people did lose their lives during COVID – due to COVID not the vaccine see here and here and here.

MISINFO: People who have been vaccinated are more likely to get seriously il from COVID. TRUTH:  No evidence to support this claim.  People who have been vaccinated far less likely to experience severe symptoms.  See here and here.

WHO Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) & Viral Facts

AIRA is the Africa-wide initiative of the World Health Organisation, managing the infodemic of misinformation and communications overload related to Covid and vaccination. They produce Viral Facts content responding to misinformation which can be used freely. You can find previous reports on the AIRA page.


Concerns over the XBB.1.5 variant in Botswana.

The response from social media users to the first case of XBB.1.5 variant has shown frustration, pandemic fatigue, and tiredness of COVID-19 updates and of complying with preventive measures (especially wearing masks). Repeated stories about different waves and variants have resulted in the public displaying disinterest in reports of rising infections.

What can we do?

Continue monitoring the epidemiological situation and the timely publication of data to formulate accurate risk assessments and to inform effective responses. Reiterate that the pandemic is not over yet and that vigilance and adherence to public health measures are vital to mitigate the spread of cases. Accountability and transparency from public health institutions are needed at every response stage to gain credibility and trust with social media users. To build trust, it is important to continuously inform the public via daily updates regarding the COVID-19 situation and its impact.



Childhood immunization. The RCCE TWG must continue to encourage parents and caregivers to use the Children’s Road-to-Health schedule to ensure that all children are up to date with their measles vaccinations. Click Road to Health schedule.

COVID-19 is over.  The RCCE continues to reiterate that the pandemic is not over yet and that vigilance and adherence to public health measures are vital to mitigate the spread of cases, The RCCE also continues to highlight the vaccine’s ability to mitigate severe symptoms and complications from contracting the disease and how it can protect individuals from new strains of COVID.

Fear of vaccine side effects/ long-term effects Side effects continue to be misinterpreted or overstated. The RCCE TWG continue to address COVID-19 side effects with updated material that is relevant to a specific concern, and to provide verified accurate information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses. People are also encouraged to use MedSafety App or email to report adverse events, or contact the National Health Hotline 0800 029 999.


The Social Listening & Infodemiology team that produces this report is part of the Risk Communications & Community Engagement (RCCE) Working Group of the Department of Health in South Africa. 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-19 contact centre: Reports from the national call centre
  • Org: NDOH Covid-19 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
  • Health Systems Trust, Community Constituency Front (CCF), HealthEnabled
  • 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, Deaf SA, SA National Council for the Blind, Treatment Action Campaign and Disability SA.

The drafting team this week includes Charity Bhengu and Nombulelo Leburu (NDOH). The data for this report was collected by the National Department of Health (NDOH), Health Systems Trust (HST), and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and Real 411.


Nombulelo Leburu, National Department of Health           082 444 9503

Peter Benjamin, HealthEnabled                                                 082 829 3353

Charity Bhengu, National Department of Health                   083 679 7424