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Lesedi: How do you feel about this operation that’s going on giving out vaccination cards illegally?
George: To be honest, it’s corruption. It’s bad, but in the same sense, people do not want to get vaccinated, and I feel like they shouldn’t be forced.
Lesedi (narration): Africa is falling behind on vaccinating its citizens.
Only 1 in 10 are fully vaccinated. But the picture changes from country to country. In Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, less than 1-percent are vaccinated. Now compare that to 80% in Seychelles. Some recent studies show that vaccine hesitancy is highest among young Africans. And today we try to figure out why. I’m Lesedi Mogoatlhe.
Mo Isu: I think the numbers are so low because people’s positions are not changing. There just doesn’t seem to be the conversation around vaccines in any significant way in Nigeria.
Lesedi (narration): That’s reporter Mo Isu. In Nigeria, only around 4-percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Mo says many Nigerians feel they have enough to worry about without going out of their way to get vaccinated.
Mo Isu: Right now, for instance, there’s no lights, so like no power supply, barely any power supply. I think there’s always, there’s always that like idea that there’s bigger problems, bigger fish to fry. Especially, in somewhere like Lagos where there’s always something crazy happening on any single day. Getting vaccinated just doesn’t seem like something that you need to add to your crazy day.
Lesedi (narration): That’s why Lagos is rolling out mobile vaccination clinics – where they bring the jab to you.
Mrs Sakombi: We have all. We have Johnson Johnson, we have Astrazeneca, we have Moderna, we have Pfizer. So we have all. OK my name is Mrs Sakombi, I’m a senior community health worker.
Lesedi (narration): Mo found Mrs Sakombi running this clinic at a busy intersection – located between a bustling market and the city’s biggest university. She waits under a canopy with a couple of chairs and invites passersby to step inside and receive their jab.
Mo Isu: So every time someone walks up to the centre, she attends to the person first. Asks, “Have you gotten vaccinated? No? OK,” then signs them up on the website, which is something you usually have to do by yourself but in this situation, she gets it done for for you.
Mrs Sakombi: Everyday, by day, we did over 50. We open 9, we close 3, Monday to Sunday.
Mo Isu: Oh everyday of the week?
Mrs Sakombi: Yes we are mobile.
Mo Isu: So someone like myself who is somewhat middle class I can see, I can plan it into my day on some level. I can find a way to go to the hospital. But someone whose livelihood depends on showing up daily to the market and everyday she doesn’t go to the market, then she loses money and cannot take care of her children, the amount of thought that you have to do to decide to get vaccinated is way more, way more significant for that person.
Hloni: Let me get over whatever it is I’m going through, whatever phobia it is. COVID-phobia or whatever. And then, when I feel I’m ready, I’ll go get vaccinated. And if I don’t ever feel ready, then it means I’m not going to get vaccinated. Unless it’s literally compulsory, then that’s the only way maybe.
Lesedi (narration): In South Africa vaccine rollout has slowed down considerably in the past few months. Health experts are warning that millions of unused vaccines will expire and be destroyed. But the vaccine hesitant are not worried. Reporter Dhashen Moodley has more.
Dhashen: Hloni is 25 years old, and lives close to Johannesburg’s city centre. She’s renting in a house with thirteen other families who live in separate rooms on the property. Hloni shares her room with her elderly mother and daughter.
Azinande: (singing) a b c d e f g…
Hloni: Ok, this is my daughter. She’s four years old, turning five on the 14th of July. She always tells my mother: “Gogo, when I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor and then I’m going to take an injection, and then I’m going to put it in your bum.” She’s the first person that always takes my mom’s tablets. “Gogo, it’s time for you to drink your pills,” like her high blood, chronic disease pill medication. My daughter is always the one, she doesn’t go to bed before giving her grandmother her pills.
Dhashen: Yeah no, she’ll be a great doctor.
Hloni: A very good doctor. I bet you on that.
Dhashen (narration): Hloni’s parents were the first to get vaccinated in her family. And they’ve repeatedly tried to convince Hloni to do the same.
Dhashen: So you’re the only one in your family unvaccinated?
Hloni: Yes, I’m the only one. But I’m not bothered by it. I’m literally not bothered, and I don’t even see anything wrong about it.
Dhashen: I was reading yesterday, only 30 percent of South Africans….
Hloni: …have actually got the vaccine.
Dhashen: Yeah, so you’re among the majority.
Hloni: Yes, and I don’t think I’m going to get vaccinated anytime soon, I’m sorry but…
Dhashen: What kind of things have you heard about the vaccine that make you feel like this is not for you?
Hloni: So I feel like the government is not doing enough. If they were actually serious about everyone getting vaccinated, I really feel that they were going to make it compulsory for everyone.
Dhashen: So if they did that, you know, if the constitutional court said tomorrow it’s compulsory, it’s mandatory, you have to get the vaccine. What would you do?
Hloni: I’d question them first: why did they take so long to finally get to that stage? Because if this was something that needed to be done urgently, they would have done it the minute they found out about the vaccine. And at the end of the day, what’s the use of getting vaccined if you still have a chance of getting COVID? Look at the president, for instance, he’s the first person that got the jab. But eventually, he got COVID. So I’m vaccinated, I’m not vaccinated. If I’m going to catch COVID, I’m going to catch COVID.
Dhashen: What happens if they make it compulsory for her to go to school to, you know, get the vaccine? What would you do then?
Hloni: I would fight, even if I had to fight, because I don’t think I want her to get vaccinated now. Not until I am convinced that this is the right route to take.
Dhashen: Has your daughter taken any other vaccines?
Hloni: No, and she’s not going to be taking any.
Dhashen: Like for measles or for any of the others?
Hloni: Yeah, for measles. Yes, she has and everything else, but COVID? Sorry.
Dhashen: Do you consider yourself an anti-vaxxer?
Hloni: Maybe, maybe not (laughs). No, no, no I don’t see the point of getting vaccinated, because it’s not going to help me with anything. I’m not working. I’m not going to school. So what difference is it going to make in my life?
Dhashen: You know, one of the things that I’ve been reading is that it seems like older people are willing to take the vaccine and younger people are not…
Hloni: Yes. Are not willing to take the vaccine. That’s the scenario, that’s actually the way it is. They feel like their immune systems are weak. It might be easier for them to catch the virus. So that’s why they go and get vaccinated. Whereas us the youth, our health is like a hundred percent. I’m not on any medication right now or anything. And I don’t normally get sick that easily. So I think I have the mentality: why would I catch COVID?
Dhashen: What do you tell her about COVID?
Hloni: I tell her everything. Do that song, “Corona corona, what a deadly disease.”
Azinande: Corona corona …(singing)
Hloni: What a boring disease.
Azinande: What a boring disease.
Dhashen: What a boring disease? (laughs)
Lesedi (narration): Late last year, one study found nearly 9 out of 10 South Africans – 55 and older – were willing to get the jab. But among 18-24 year olds, just 6 out of 10 wanted the vaccine. And to be clear, fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 are far less likely to develop serious illness than those who are unvaccinated. They are less likely to be hospitalised or die. South Africa has the highest COVID death toll on the continent. Almost 100-thousand people have died from the virus. That’s nearly half of Africa’s recorded fatalities. So far, there is no national vaccine mandate. That means that places like businesses, schools and universities have to figure out and enforce their own rules.
News Clip: From February next year, vaccinations will be mandatory at the University of Free State. WITS and Cape Town universities have also made vaccinations mandatory.
News Clip: University of Johannesburg students are protesting against the institution’s vaccine policy. The facility is not allowing on campus students who’ve not been vaccinated against COVID-19…
Lesedi (narration): Students at the Durban University of Technology, often called DUT, have three options: They can either get vaccinated, take regular PCR tests, or study remotely. When our reporter Zanele Mji visited DUT, she found students protesting against the policy.
Zanele (narration): When I arrived on campus, I found groups of students sitting on the roadside outside the gates. A couple of them had suitcases. I chatted to Sbongumenzi, a 25 year old chemical engineering student in his final year. He’s not vaccinated. And is one of the students calling for the university to review its vaccine policy.
Sbongumenzi: As this week started, there were students who were camping outside the campus, there were students who slept, I think today is the third day, because DUT firstly told them to vaccinate before they get residencies.
Zanele: What is the problem with those three options that the university, that the school, has given?
Sbongumenzi: They are not going to be able to study online at home because of the conditions they are facing.
We must really understand that the students they come from poor families. Connectivity is a problem at home. Study place at home is a problem, you cannot study whereby you are having 10 siblings in one room. It’s not feasible. Your focus, concentration and everything is compromised in that thing.
Zanele (narration): That leaves us with two options. Get vaccinated or get regular tests. And with PCR tests costing about R500 a pop, Sbongumenzi says that option two is just too pricey.
Sbongumenzi: After the two days has lapsed you have to test again to come to campus. So it’s illogical. It’s just pushing all of them to the first choice.
Zanele: Ok, so what’s what is going to happen to you? What are you, what are you going to do?
Sbongumenzi: If if it means I sleep outside the university gates for myself to get proper education and the proper connectivity and proper learning facilities, then let it be. We’ll sleep until they hear us.
Lesedi (narration): In Zimbabwe selling fake vaccine cards to the unvaccinated has become its own industry.
George: I work in the health ministry, so those that didn’t want to get vaccinated they were checking if I had any links to getting the cards without being vaccinated.
Lesedi (narration): That voice you just heard? We’re going to call him George to protect his identity. George is a health care worker in Zimbabwe. He’s vaccinated himself and very much PRO vaccination.
George: I did not have any side effects. I did not feel any different so far, and it’s more than a year now. I don’t regret it. There were moments when I felt like I had signs and symptoms of COVID, but I would get tested and come out negative, and I think, I think the vaccine really helped me.
Lesedi: The percentage of people getting vaccinated in a lot of the African countries is very low compared to the rest of the world. Why do you think that is?
George: There were so many myths around it. Some we’re seeing the 5G, some we’re seeing it’s the triple six, some we’re seeing the Western countries trying to destroy the Africans. So, the first batches that we got were donated from, by China, and the type of vaccine that we’re getting the Sinopharm and Sinovac – the Western countries are not using that kind of vaccine. Because of that people were questioning why this type of vaccine? Why this donation, actually? So people became so afraid of receiving that vaccine because of that.
Lesedi: Hmm got it. Almost like, why if it’s not good enough for other countries, why should we then take it?
George: If it’s, if you’re not willing to take it yourself, why are you giving me? And because these things are expensive why are you giving me for free?
Lesedi (narration): So George’s take on buying fake vaccination cards is…umm, nuanced.
George: To be honest, it’s corruption. It’s bad, but in the same sense, people don’t want to get vaccinated and they feel like they shouldn’t be forced.
Lesedi: How much money are people making through this? Is it fair amount, do you think? Or are they ripping people off?
George: It’s a lot of money, because for a vaccination that can be given for free people pay from 50 dollars to a 100 dollars, that is US dollars, to get the vaccination card. I think the economy plays a huge role, in the sense that civil servants get less than 150 US dollars. So it means if someone can sell a card for 100 bucks and in a week you get about 10 people, that’s a lot of money. So as long as the economy is very low and down, people will continue with corrupt ways of giving people vaccination cards.
Lesedi: So for you, with your exchange with the young man that you helped were you able to get compensated for that connection?
George: I did not benefit anything because it’s someone that I know personally, and I had to link them with the people with the cards and they paid the person who gave them the card.
Lesedi: And what was your motivation? Why did you feel obliged to be part of it, especially if you’re not benefiting financially?
George: I was helping a friend and because he’s, he’s young, he’s 19 and in Zim you cannot do anything without the vaccination card and he wanted to do his driving lessons. He’s going to the uni, he needs the vaccination card. It’s a prerequisite wherever you go, be it you want to get to a restaurant, they need a vaccination card.
Lesedi (narration): And George’s friend was willing to talk to him about it.
George: Maybe, just introduce yourself
John: Ah my name is gonna…
George: I know, but maybe just tell us about yourself.
John: OK. Excluding my name, right?
George: Yeah, yeah, it’s OK.
John: OK, I have the card, I’m not vaccinated. Other people have the card, they are vaccinated, right? But if we’re doing something like sports or functions, we all get tested for COVID. So at the end of the day, I don’t see the reason for the vaccine.
George: So there are people obviously that know that you did not get vaccinated.
George: Do they disagree with your decision of not getting vaccinated and what, what is your response to them?
John: Yeah, some do. Some don’t, but at the same time let me tell you something. There are people who don’t agree with me not being vaccinated, but at the end of the day, we spend time together. Life goes on, everything is normal.
George: Maybe take me through the procedure of getting the the illegal vaccination card. What are the steps that you have to go through to get it? Was money involved? How did you approach the person? [laughter] Just give us the details.
John: Obviously there’s money involved. Nothing’s for free. I don’t know in other countries, but in Zimbabwe, there’s nothing for free, one. So, I saw somebody who was actually working with those guys who were dispatching the cards, you know in the vaccination centre, and I happened to know the person.
Lesedi (narration): Well just to be clear, the person he is referring to is George, but he chooses to protect his identity.
John: So I approached them, I told them my story, like I was fairly clear with them that, look, I’m having this challenge that I want to do sports you know, I would want to travel, but I don’t have the the card. Then they were like, no, you can travel as long as you, you test, right? But still, I couldn’t do sports specifically without vaccination.
George: Maybe just any any last words, especially for someone who might judge your decision or thinks what you’re doing is wrong?
John: OK, first things first, I would tell somebody that if you are not good with something, don’t do it to please people. If you want to do something, do it out of the heart, so that if ever there be any consequences, you’ll be like, I chose this nobody forced me into it, right? So if I died today, if I woke up positive and I noticed life was deteriorating, I would know I made the choice. But if I woke up dying because of the vaccination, I’d be like…
George: I was forced to do it.
John: I was forced to do it. My mom did this to me. My government did. You know? All that, but at the present time it’s ones choice, ones decision. Ukuthi this is what I want to do. This is how I want it. Getting the card illegally or legally, ya I got it illegally. Fine. I’ll admit to that. But the most important part is I made a choice. I made a decision.
Lesedi (narration): Last year, most African countries failed to reach the vaccination target of 40% set by the World Health Organisation. Now the WHO is pushing for a 70% vaccination target by June. To get there, well, we’ve clearly got a lot of work ahead of us.
Lesedi (narration): I’m Lesedi Mogoatlhe, the editor of the Radio Workshop. This episode was produced by Jo Jackson, Dhashen Moodely, and Mike Rahfaldt with extra reporting by Mo Isu, RasThatGuy and Zanele Mji. A big thanks to Mrs Sakombi, Hloni, Azinande, Sbongumenzi, and George. Music is by Blue Dot Sessions. This episode of the Radio Workshop, and the work of the Children’s Radio Foundation would not be possible without support from Africa No Filter. Visit our website for more information and to support our work at: childrensradiofoundation.org