Why is vaccine hesitancy so high?
So, why are we still struggling to convince a significant proportion of the larger community to get the jab?
German psychologist Professor Cornelia Betsch proposed five c’s as factors that deeply affect vaccine uptake. All of these are important here.
Confidence: trust in the vaccine’s efficacy and safety, and confidence in the people rolling them out. We are making great strides here, particularly with community and religious organisations now opening vaccine centres. We need to produce more paper reading material about vaccine safety in different languages, and rely less on digital education only.
Complacency: whether the disease is considered a serious risk. The third wave and its devastation has shifted most minds here. We need to focus on the appreciation that healthy young people can become significantly unwell too.
Calculation: weighing up the costs and benefits. We need to encourage those reluctant to be vaccinated to do this exercise themselves. The risks of COVID-19 complications are big. The risks of vaccines are, at most, little.
Constraints: availability and ease. Justifiable or not, we have failed here. However, South Africa can be proud of its catch-up and current stock availability.
Collective responsibility: the willingness to protect others from infection through one’s own vaccination. I will focus the rest of the article on this responsibility.
COVID-19 has taught us the paramount lesson that we are responsible for one another. This spans from the responsibility of informing contacts if you test positive, to the responsibility of supporting infected individuals with medication to prevent them from infecting others, to the responsibility of emotional support for bereaved families, to now, the biggest responsibility of getting vaccinated. This is your greatest moment of responsibility to others in COVID-19, even if you believe you are taking on “vaccine risk”.
It’s so clear to me that the only way out of this pandemic is for us to stop framing our COVID-19 lives as individuals, and embrace the responsibility of being a member of a community. We need to take up our duty to protect others. Getting vaccinated to protect others shouldn’t be seen as a mere act of altruism. In fact, it’s the only way we will rebuild our communal life and develop population immunity. Ironically, it’s this focus on others will that will enable us as individuals to resume our own social interactions and a normal lifestyle. The true test of COVID-19 is seeing beyond one’s own immediate protection.