It was 16 March 2020 when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown under the National Disaster Act and for eleven months we have been battling with the coronavirus which has devastated the world and changed our lives as we know it. South Africa is already battling the second wave, believed to be driven by the new variant, which is easily transmissible, particularly amongst young people, as stated by scientists. We are not alone in this battle – other countries are on their third National lockdown in fighting the virus.

So it is worth repeating and restating the message of the hygiene protocols that we have become accustomed to. We cannot afford to let our guard down or get tired of these protocols, we need to remind people that the virus does not get tired of infecting people and making them sick, resulting in some losing their lives.
We must continue wearing our face masks, washing or sanitizing our hands, social distancing and avoid gathering in crowded spaces as they have been identified as ‘super spreaders’ of the virus and, while on the subject of super spreaders, it has now emerged that funerals have joined this category too, particularly in Provinces like Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.

Whilst one understands the need to say goodbye to your loved ones and being sensitive around the traditions, rituals and practices – one must realise that these are now endangering other people in their communities and many more people are being infected and dying because of funerals, therefore attending funerals in groups is no longer safe. We want to appeal to our people to put a hold on these practices and traditions until such time that it is safe to do so.

We need huge community driven campaigns to educate our people. I saw Chief Matsiya of the BaVhenda nation going around educating his people about the dangers of funerals and its rituals and practices. The same goes for the ever hardworking MEC of Health in Limpopo, doing her bit to educate the people of Limpopo. Programs such as these are needed in our communities. While on the subject of education and sharing of information about the virus and its dangers, much more is now known about this virus than when it first hit

the world. We must give credit to the scientists, doctors and researchers who have worked very hard to gain information on the behaviour and the nature of this virus and they have done an incredible job on that score.
This brings me to the subject of the vaccines which has sparked much debate around the world, including here at home. Upfront, let me state that so much misinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news about the vaccines is being spread in our communities – people are peddling lies about vaccines period. Such behaviour should not be tolerated. When people do speak on the issue of vaccines they should at least produce some evidence, data or facts to back up their statements.

In a recent National Interfaith Leaders Meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize, the President raised this concern with us and requested our help to communicate the right message. Many of us committed to support and help our Government to spread the correct and right message about vaccines. I went as far as saying that I am happy to take the vaccine publicly if it will help send the right message. I’m fully aware that people have the right to say no to taking a vaccine – that is their prerogative and it should be respected, but no one has the right to spread lies, fake news and conspiracy theories – that is point blank wrong.

I agree with the argument that the vaccines must be safe for people, I agree with those who say there should be transparency on how the vaccines are made and I also agree with those who say that data should be made available for people to know more about the vaccines. I’m sure President Ramaphosa and Minister Zweli Mkhize won’t have a problem in giving us such information, but lies, fake news, conspiracy theories are wrong and they are not helping in our fight.

It is encouraging to see leaders of political parties getting involved in sending out the correct message about the vaccines. So far I have heard the leader of the EFF, Mr Julius Malema, and the leader of ActionSA, Mr Herman Mashaba. We need everyone on board to help our Government. Civil society leaders, religious leaders and community leaders must also come out. In order stop this humanitarian and economic crisis we are facing it is important that the world comes to the aid of poor countries and shares equally in the distribution of vaccines around the world. Wealthy countries should not be allowed to buy all the vaccines, leaving the poor countries to suffer. The
World Health Organisation (WHO) must stand up to such bullies. Until we are all safe no one is safe – we live in a global village.

Lastly, let’s look at the benefits of vaccines over the last 25 years and note the diseases they have eradicated and then people can make up their own minds. Dr Chan, WHO Director-General, in one of his remarks about the success of vaccines in eradicating diseases said ‘vaccines have been one of the biggest success stories of modern medicine. The WHO estimates that at least 10 million deaths were prevented between 2010 and 2015 thanks to vaccinations delivered around the world. Many millions of more lives were protected from the suffering and disability associated with diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, whooping cough, measles and polio.

On their website, Vaccines for Africa give some interesting stats on the success of the vaccines. It makes encouraging reading to see how vaccines have helped save lives – particularly those of children. Smallpox eradication – in 1977 Smallpox was eradicated after a successful ten year campaign carried out by the WHO. Before that it killed every fourth person infected.

Measles vaccinations resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide. During the same period, measles cases dropped by 58% (from 853,500 to 355,000). African countries have made the most progress with measles deaths being reduced by about 86% between 2000 and 2014. Routine childhood vaccination coverage has greatly increased since WHO’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) began in 1974. It is estimated that immunisation currently averts an estimated two to three million deaths every year. Additional vaccines have now been added to the original six recommended in 1974. For example, South Africa has 11 different vaccines in the EPI schedule as at the beginning of 2017.

If we work together we will win this fight. Let us respect scientists, researchers and doctors who are doing their best to help us win.

Comment by Ps Ray McCauley


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