by Frederico Links

AS the global roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines is picking up steam, so too are attempts by disinformation peddlers to discredit the vaccines.

The International Fact-Checking Network’s (IFCN) CoronaVirusFacts alliance reported at the start of this month that Covid-19 vaccine-related disinformation “made up a third of fact checks submitted to the database since the start of 2021”.

According to the alliance, among the viral false claims have been attempts to cast the vaccination of prominent figures, such as the televised vaccination of South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, as stunts or hoaxes, false claims about the efficacy of various vaccines, and claims that vaccines were altering people’s DNA.

Against the backdrop of this unending tide of disinformation that has accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic since the start of 2020, from the end of February 2021, vaccines have started being delivered through the Covax facility to various countries across the African continent, and vaccinations have commenced from Ghana to Kenya.

At the time of writing, Namibia had yet to take delivery of its first batch of earmarked vaccines through Covax, which is a global mechanism including the World Health Organisation (WHO) to ensure poorer countries get vaccines at affordable prices.

Vaccine-related disinformation over the last year appears to have had the impact of growing Covid-19 vaccine skepticism and hesitancy on a continent that has generally shown high acceptance rates for other vaccines.

In February 2021 it was reported that the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) of the African Union expressed concern in December 2020 over high Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy rates, which a study found across 18 countries.

This concern was illustrated as the vaccination drive kicked off in Ghana on Tuesday, as it was reported that some Ghanaians were not convinced of the safety of the available vaccine – despite the country’s president, his wife and other top government officials having received the vaccine on Monday in full public view.

For the record, all of the Covid-19 vaccines currently being administered across the world have proven to be safe so far, with not a single death or many incidents of serious illness having been reported anywhere after the administering of one of the vaccines.

At the same time, studies have already started showing the vaccines were protecting people from severe illness, virus transmission and even death.

DODGY CLAIMS

As the Covid-19 pandemic entered 2021 and vaccines started flowing, false claims around the effectiveness of certain drugs in treating Covid-19 refused to die down. Two drugs have featured especially prominently among such dodgy claims over the last year: Hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

At the beginning of this month, a WHO expert panel finally and “strongly” recommended, after assessing the results of six large studies, that hydroxychloroquine should not be used to treat Covid-19 patients, as it had no effect on the disease.

This WHO recommendation came exactly a year after former US president Donald Trump first falsely touted the anti-inflammatory drug as a “game changer” in the treatment of Covid-19.

As for ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that has similarly been falsely held up as a Covid-19 treatment, especially on social media, in late February the Africa CDC issued a statement, which read that there was: “1. No scientific evidence from pre-clinical studies on the therapeutic effect of ivermectin for the management of Covid-19; 2. No evidence of its clinical efficacy for the management of patients with asymptomatic, mild, moderate or severe Covid-19; and 3. No safety data regarding the use of ivermectin for Covid-19 in the majority of the published studies.”

Other fake treatments and cures continue to be promoted though, such as herbal steaming as an indigenous African remedy, among others.

At the beginning of this month, it was widely reported that, as vaccinations were to start in Zimbabwe, many ordinary Zimbabweans expressed more faith in traditional remedies than the Covid-19 vaccines the country recently received.

It has been widely stated, aside from the impacts of pervasive disinformation, that low trust in Covid-19 vaccines appeared to go hand in hand with low trust in African governments among many ordinary Africans.

Even if trust in the government also appears to be an issue in Namibia, Namibians are cautioned not to fall for unproven, traditional remedies, but to seek medical assistance if they suspect Covid-19 infection.

– Frederico Links is the editor of Namibia Fact Check, which is a project of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Namibia Fact Check can be viewed at www.namibiafactcheck.org.na.

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