Covid-19: Apathy driving slow vaccine uptake, health department report finds

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Young woman receiving a vaccine shot. (Getty Images)
Young woman receiving a vaccine shot. (Getty Images)
  • Widespread apathy towards Covid-19 could be behind South Africa's slowing vaccination rate.
  • Vaccine uptake remains lowest in the 18 to 35 age group.
  • Fewer than 50% of all South African adults have received a vaccine.

Widespread sentiment among South Africans is that "Covid-19 is over", according to a social listening report from the Department of Health. This apathy could be impacting on slow vaccine uptake, the report said.

This comes as vaccination numbers remain sluggish and the government may be forced to dump 100 000 vaccine doses at the end of the month.

News24 previously reported that the health department said 100 000 unused Pfizer doses would expire at the end of March and that it would have to be destroyed.

More doses were likely to expire in May, June, and July.

READ | Covid-19: 100 000 Pfizer doses to expire at end of March due to waning vaccination rates

Despite setting a target of vaccinating 76% of the population by December 2021, the government was only likely to reach 50% of the adult population with at least one dose later this month.

According to the report, there was "extreme fatigue at the pandemic" and the government's efforts to manage it.

The report said:

There is widespread sentiment that the Covid emergency is ending. There are fewer infections and deaths, a majority have some immunity through infection or vaccination, and Omicron tends to be less severe. This undermines motivation to vaccinate.

Currently, an average of 100 000 vaccine doses were administered every weekday. This was higher than in January and February, but lower than last year and the government's initial target of 300 000 doses daily.

The population group showing the slowest vaccine uptake is the youth.

Only 35% of those aged between 18 and 35 had received Covid-19 vaccines, compared to 52% of adults between 35 and 49, 64% of the 50 to 59 age cohort, and 68% of those aged 60 and over.

The report found: 

Many youth say they have survived the pandemic for two years, why bother to vaccinate now? The vaccine is not their priority and the amount of government attention on this (rather than jobs, service delivery, and other issues they care about) leads to suspicion.

However, low case numbers were not a reason to avoid getting vaccinated, the report stated.

"If you are unvaccinated, you are more likely to spread Covid and which enables new variants to develop," the report said.

Around 48% of adults had been vaccinated at least once against Covid-19, while 43% had been fully vaccinated. According to the Department of Health, 32 322 691 vaccines had been administered in total. Among children 12 and older, 1 729 991 doses of vaccine had been administered as of Wednesday.

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