South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination program is well ahead in its implementation, but not without facing opposition in its uptake from some quarters, much like the rest of the world. In this age of citizen journalism where anyone is able to record and disseminate information through channels and platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and so forth, there has been much ado about the effectiveness of the vaccines, with some quarters having reservations.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States of America (an agency that protects public health by ensuring products such as veterinary drugs, vaccines and foodstuffs are safe and effective) was requested, and gave in, bypassing some stages when the vaccine was being developed in 2020. Not being an isolated case, this is a classic example wherein the public’s confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the end products deteriorated. However, it must be understood that the world was rushing against time, against a virus that was moving at alarming rates and killing thousands the world over. Economies were being ravaged each day, families being torn apart and thousands losing jobs, red tape and bureaucracy could certainly not hold the world at ransom. The authorities such as the FDA, could also not release dangerous products or deliberately bypass procedures with sheer careless.
The conspiracy theory also played a role, if not the biggest contribution for its part. Theories were peddled from all corners about how the Covid-19 virus was one big conspiracy aimed at placing the world in the hands of a few capitalist megalomaniacs, thought to be those effectively in control of big tech. Why this theory rose up, is because if there is anything that is most pronounced that came out of the pandemic, is the surge in the billions of those in big tech and pharmaceuticals, while the low and medium chain businesses were almost wiped out had it not been for some adaptive methods developed by different countries in desperation, to forestall the collapse of their economies and to save industries that anchor them. The COVID-19 pandemic was thought to be connected to the end time teachings of some religions, and this discouraged most people of these faiths to participate in the taking of vaccines as promoted by governments, thinking of it as an agenda of a new world order.
Further, we would not have done enough justice to discuss the factors that drove skepticism against vaccination without making mention of rights movements. In some European countries protests against vaccination and vaccine mandates turned violent and spread across other territories. In South Africa however, reservations about vaccination on constitutional premises and rights have largely been an affair of representative groups such as trade unions, civic organization groups and special interest groups such as NEDLAC and employers’ associations. At the time of writing this article, SAFTU and NEDLAC had indicated they are planning to approach the Constitutional Court for clarity and declaratory orders respectively, on whether to implement vaccine mandates in the workplace. Afriforum had also registered its opposition to vaccine mandates, citing that it works against constitutional rights and freedom of choice.
In conclusion, while conspiracy theories give a sneak peek into the goings-on in places of high authority, they do not shape policy on public affairs. Secondly, it must be remembered that phenomena such as vaccine mandates and health protocols are sciences that are informed by empirical data and pragmatism. Rights are available and ought to be given effect to, the constitutional provisions ought to be protected and respected, but a balanced approach needs to be adopted whereby all obligations and competing rights weigh in towards a common goal and understanding.
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