Regional health directors of the Oshana, Omusati, Erongo and Ohangwena regions emphasised that rumours and misinformation are deterring many Namibians from getting the Covid-19 vaccine.
The regional health leaders told New Era there has been a low turnout of people, mostly the youth, at vaccination points, and that could have been caused by rumours, spread through word-of-mouth and on social media.
The mis- and sometimes disinformation (false or misleading information spread deliberately to deceive) have fuelled vaccine hesitancy.
John Hango of the Ohangwena health directorate said there is a slow response from the community as they do not accept vaccination.
“We are a bit concerned that most vaccines are likely to expire as they have a short expiry date,” he stated.
Hango explained that so far, 2 740 people have received their first doses. As of 18 May, the region recorded 1 270 people who received their first doses of Sinopharm and 1 470 given the AstraZeneca vaccines. The cumulative figure of the second doses of both vaccines given stands at 121.
“Vaccination is also arranged to be given at private hospitals and police holding cells. There was a special mobilisation team from 19 to 23 April which went from village to village, disseminating information on vaccinations,” he added.
Asser Shipanga, acting regional health director of the Oshana region, said there is a low turnout of people, especially the youth, at vaccination points in the region.
“Another challenge in our region is the shortage of human resources, being vaccinators/nurses. Remember, we are using the same inadequate staff members at health facilities,” he noted.
Shipanga said the region is strongly urging people to learn how to verify information spread about the vaccinations before they believe it, as well as to verify if the source is legit because there are thousands of hoaxes in today’s media landscape.
“We are urging them to be careful with the stereotypes around vaccines by having a team that is responsible for information-sharing in the region. We also urge those with side-effects, if there are any, to always come back to the health facilities of their choice and get help,” he advised.
Shipanga further stated that the region is currently unable to reach out to the community and disseminate the right information to counter the uncontrolled, unverified information circulating and mostly derived from social media, which mostly happens now because NBC’s Kati FM is off air.
Alfons Amoomo, the health director in Omusati, said although the Covid-19 vaccination programme is going well and the vaccine antigens are so far enough, people are coming through in small numbers.
“We have all four district hospitals that have one vaccination point each and a mobile outreach team, which takes vaccinations to various points. We also have a shortage of nursing staff,” he added.
Amoomo said the region is trying its utmost best to educate the public and provide it with the correct information for them to take the vaccines.
“We give correct education about the vaccines at places such as churches, hospitals and clinics. We have also created short counter-misinformation videos, and share it on WhatsApp groups,” he continued.
Anna Jonas, the health director in the Erongo region, is also concerned about the low turnout, and urged stakeholders to support the campaign.
“So far, we have vaccinated more than 5 000 people. The challenge remains for more people to come forward and support the campaign,” she said.
She added that the vaccination process is going well as the demand was slow at the beginning, but has since picked up.
“All four district hospitals are providing this service from 08h00 to 17h00 during the week, but not on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays,” she said.