Johannesburg – Covid-19 strategist and public health expert Dr Velile Ngidi said the country was regressing on Covid-19 vaccination mainly because young people refuse to vaccinate.
Preliminary data from epidemiologists studying the Omicron variant suggest that it has led to a high number of hospitalisations.
The younger population under 40 years of age is increasingly becoming infected.
“Sometimes when the community doesn’t trust the state, influencers and other influential people such as celebrities should be used to drive pro-vaccine messages.
Young people idolise and listen to them. We have done poorly on this strategy, and we are missing this important population group,” said Ngidi.
She highlighted that the national vaccination rate was at a paltry 36%.
“Within the age group 18-35, misinformation is the greatest threat and the anti-vaccine sentiments are over-whelming. Young people are not only getting negative feed about vaccines but they are highly organised groupings who are driving these campaigns. They thrive on fake news and cause unnecessary panic,” she added.
The government has already established a task team to deliberate on the possibility of making Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for the population. Authorities believe that this strategy would assist in reaching herd immunity.
In the midst of anxiety, virologists were quick to allay fears that the new variant might be deadlier than any other variants, saying vaccinated individuals were unlikely to suffer severe sickness.
As part of the vaccination drive, Gauteng premier David Makhura said the province was targeting schools.
Professor Mahomed Moosa, an infectious disease specialist based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, pointed to a combination of factors, saying they had led to vaccine hesitancy among young people.
“The problem is that scientists and those with knowledge about the pandemic are rarely on social media pages.
These are the people who should be driving the message on the positives of vaccination. The second factor is that young feel that they are immune. They also account for far less hospitalisation and death because of Covid-19,” said Moosa.
Experts have also raised concerns that pupils are at high risk because the vaccination drive had glaring failures as parents were refusing to allow jabs for children without their consent.
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