/ 29 July 2021

Do South Africans prefer prayer to vaccines?

Safrica Health Virus Vaccine
Scientists say the country needs to significantly improve vaccination rates (Emmanuel Croset/AFP)

Seven out of 10 South Africans (of the 1 600 polled) do not trust the government at all, or have only a little trust in its ability to ensure the safety of Covid-19 vaccines, with close to half believing prayer is more effective than medicine in preventing infection, a new survey by Afrobarometer has revealed.

A team from the pan-African, independent and non-partisan research network that measures public attitudes on economic, political, and social matters in Africa, led by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Plus 94 Research, interviewed 1600 adult South Africans during May and June, and extrapolated that this distrust could lead to around 54% of respondents not getting the vaccine.

These respondents indicated that they were unlikely or highly unlikely to get themselves inoculated. According to the survey, 47% of respondents believed that prayer was more effective against the coronavirus than vaccines.

Of the remaining 30% of respondents, 2% reported they did not know if they could trust the government with ensuring the safety of the drugs. The other 28% said they somewhat or fully trusted the government in this regard.

The 1 600 respondent sample size “yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-2.5 percentage points at a 95% confidence level,” Afrobarometer said.

“If South Africans distrust the Covid-19 vaccine, this will pose a significant challenge for the government’s mass vaccination programme,” it added.

On its information page on vaccines, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stresses the importance of as many people as possible getting vaccinated, to protect not just themselves, but others as well. 

“Because not everyone can be vaccinated they depend on others being vaccinated to ensure they are also safe from vaccine-preventable diseases,” the UN health agency says.

“Without vaccines, we are at risk of serious illness and disability from diseases like measles, meningitis, pneumonia, tetanus and polio. Many of these diseases can be life-threatening. WHO estimates that childhood vaccines alone save more than four-million lives every year.”

According to the latest vaccine statistics on Thursday morning, South Africa has administered more than seven-million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is targeting 67% of the population being vaccinated by the end of 2021, which would allow South Africa to achieve herd immunity against the virus.

Department of health data shows that to date, more than 2.3-million South Africans have tested positive for Covid-19 since the first case was reported in March last year. Of these, at least 68 000 have lost their lives due to related health complications.