- Despite Covid-19 vaccines being widely available, vaccine acceptance is still a challenge in some parts of the world, including South Africa.
- The reasons for this are wide-ranging, and include concern over the vaccines' rapid development and its safety.
- Sadiyya Absalom, who was initially resistant to getting jabbed, spoke to Health24 about why she changed her mind and got vaccinated.
Although more than 4.56 billion shots of the Covid-19 vaccines have been given across 183 countries, levels of vaccine acceptance is still a pressing problem in many parts of the world, including South Africa, where under 20% of the population have been vaccinated.
Authorities fear a possible fourth wave of infections in the Western Cape due to a rise of vaccine hesitancy in some areas, News24 recently reported.
As South Africa grapples with the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, health officials are urging people to get vaccinated. Available evidence demonstrates the currently authorised vaccines are protecting people against the severe effects of Covid-19, including death.
The head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital, Dr Marc Mendelson, told News24 earlier this month he had not seen a vaccinated person develop Covid-19 pneumonia, and needing intubation or ICU in his high care ward at the hospital.
While those who are eligible for registration are delaying their Covid-19 vaccination, citing various reasons, thankfully, many people who were once vaccine hesitant have changed their minds and received their jab.
Here, Sadiyya Absalom tells Health24 what changed her mind.
Concerns about fast development
It was the speed at which Covid-19 vaccine development had taken place and the "new" mRNA technology used in some of the vaccines that led Sadiyya, 37, to express concerns about its safety.
"When my husband and I started seeing that the vaccines were becoming available overseas, we had a discussion about it and I thought, 'I don't think there was enough testing - and who did they test?' It was just too soon to be taking something new that we didn't know enough about."
Rapid Covid-19 vaccine development and the rollout thereof was made possible due to decades of previous research on related viruses, as well faster ways to manufacture vaccines, an article by Nature explained.
Huge amounts of funding for vaccine research and development also allowed developers to fast-track multiple clinical studies in parallel, but the process did not skip any critical steps.
At the same time, Sadiyya wondered whether it would be worth getting vaccinated if it meant she would be able to visit family and life would slowly start going back to normal.
"But for the most part, I just did not want to take it," she said.
But when she and her immediate family, including her 62-year-old mother, contracted Covid-19 around six months later, she realised it was more of a risk to be unvaccinated.
"It all made me change my mind, especially because of my mom's infection - she has diabetes and a host of chronic conditions, and had to go onto an oxygen concentrator for about six weeks."
People with underlying medical conditions, such as type 1 or 2 diabetes, hypertension, and chronic lung diseases are at higher risk of severe Covid-19.
In South Africa, figures from 2020 indicate more than 4.5 million people are living with the disease - and there may be many more undiagnosed cases.
"Knowing that she has chronic conditions, and considering her age, I go to bed every night thinking, 'Is she going to wake up tomorrow?' because we can see what's been happening with the Covid cases."
Sadiyya's mother received her first dose around two weeks before contracting Covid-19, and has since received her second dose. (People who receive just the first dose are not fully protected against severe Covid-19.)
"After she got her second vaccine, her health really started improving. She's now off the oxygen during the day, but she still has to use it at night," she said, adding: "I do believe that her infection could've been a whole lot worse if she didn't take the first dose of the vaccine."
She continued: "People were sending fake messages about why we shouldn't take the vaccine, but we took it and didn't have any issues besides a sore arm."
Even mild Covid-19 is 'awful'
Sadiyya's infection was classified as a mild case of Covid-19, but even with mild cases, the disease can still take its toll.
"My Covid infection was an awful experience. I wouldn't want anybody else to have to go through it. The night registration for vaccination officially opened for our age group, my husband and I registered, and we got our first jabs on 17 July," she said.
Her mother's infection was the key reason that spurred her decision to get vaccinated, but Sadiyya also attributes the educational radio talk shows which involved doctors debunking misinformation that helped her build her confidence and trust in the vaccines.
"Almost every radio station I listened to had some medical doctor talking about Covid, especially within the Muslim community. I've noticed how the topic and the people they've been interviewing have been increasing to encourage people to take it.
"I've also seen a lot of the Muslim doctors have been putting out information on what the vaccines contain, because many people have been saying that it contains strange things that heightened people's scepticism, and they've clarified this information.
"Those things sort of put one's mind at ease because these are doctors that you know; they are people you trust - they're not going to promote something if they know it's not going to be of benefit."
Rather deal with the knowns
Sadiyya may have recovered after her infection, but her mother has not been as lucky as she has been dealing with the lingering effects of the disease, known as "long Covid" where patients suffer symptoms long after their infection has passed.
It is estimated that between 25 to 35% of people, after recovering from acute Covid-19 infection, will suffer from long Covid.
Symptoms could range from struggling to breathe and having crushing fatigue, to having difficulty thinking or concentrating ("brain fog") and sleep problems, noted the Centers for Disease Control.
"Although my mom is currently off the oxygen during the day, she still can't do the normal things that she used to do. She can't even cook without getting tired in between, so she'll have to sit down and take a break, and then resume what she was doing. She's not working at the pace that she used to before Covid," said Sadiyya.
No longer concerned about safety of vaccine
"Now, I just want to get my second dose," she added, expressing the importance of trying to understand why the next person might not want to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
"Sometimes it's the simple parts of the vaccine that people don't understand and that's what causes the fear. They want to understand where it comes from and what goes in it. And those things can be set straight.
'We can't continue like this'
"I think people who have not gotten Covid and are still sceptical about it are the ones who should really consider getting it. Because you'd rather suffer with the potential, minor side effects of the vaccine than to go through Covid; you don't know how your body is going to respond to a Covid infection.
"For some people it may be flu-like, but for others it can be very bad.
"Right now, I just want to get my second dose and hope that as many people as possible get on to that same page and get it too, because we can't continue like this. This is not how life is supposed to be," Sadiyya said.