The NIDS-CRAM survey is a collaboration between over 30 researchers from universities and research organisations that involves a nationally representative panel of about 7000 people being surveyed by phone in five waves. The latest surveyed just under 5000 people.

The survey found that two-thirds of respondents strongly agreed in April/May 2021 with the statement, “If a vaccine for COVID-19 were available, I would get it”. This is an increase from the 55% recorded in February/March 2021 to 64%.

South Africa started its mass vaccination campaign on 17 May with people over the age of 60 placed first in the queue. The survey found after more than two months, 78% of people in this age group were willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but evidence from the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) shows that the proportion of the elderly who have registered for vaccination is much lower than their willingness to be vaccinated asserted in surveys.

The increase in the number of people who have changed their minds about getting the vaccine reflects a lean away from hesitancy towards more agreeable perspectives amid the unchanging devastation caused by the third wave.

NIDS-CRAM data shows less hesitancy

According to the survey, one in five South Africans worry that the vaccines are unsafe. Among the 34% of individuals who did not strongly agree that they would get a vaccine, 53% believed that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe or could harm them.

Bheki Nyanda from a small town called Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, recovered from COVID-19 last year in July.

He said the pandemic affected his community greatly, with a lot of death and financial devastation. Although eligible to register, Nyanda is concerned that getting the vaccine is not safe for him.

“I haven’t registered yet and I’m not sure when I’m going to. It’s not that I don’t want to vaccinate but I’m scared and uncertain about the side effects because of my hypertension. I don’t know what the vaccine will do to my body at a later stage,” he said.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) it is important that a person waits a minimum of 30 days after recovery to receive a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Thabiso Koena, a bank consultant at a local shopping center in Bronkhorstpruit said he tested positive for COVID-19 during the second wave earlier this year. He said his journey to recovery was not easy and continues to be a battle.

“There was a day I felt my chest closing up and I had trouble breathing. I remember driving to the hospital and begging for them to take me in but they kept saying they were full and I was not that sick. I went on my knees, just crying and begging them. Sometimes I have flashbacks and panic attacks about needing help and not being able to get it. I still feel that clog in my chest and feel feverish more often than I remember. On some nights, I use four pillows when I sleep so that I can elevate my upper body, ” he said.

Koena said he is doesn’t see himself taking the vaccine until he fully recovers from his long COVID symptoms.

“I recently heard from my colleague that their family member passed away a few weeks after taking the vaccine. I don’t know if he was ill or had any comorbidities but we know that he was still experiencing side effects from the virus since last year. I’m scared the same thing will happen to me.”

Concerns about side-effects

According to the NIDS–CRAM survey reported that one in five of those who believed vaccines are unsafe or could harm them reported that this is because of side-effects. Concerns about side-effects are common and many individuals will experience systemic side-effects such as headaches, fever, fatigue, chills and shivers. Most of those who are vaccinated will experience local side-effects such as pain, swelling, tenderness, redness, itchiness or warmth near the site of the injection.

The survey indicated that respondents are willing to accept vaccines if local community leaders are vaccinated and stay healthy, almost 40% are willing to change their mind if a community leader is vaccinated. Therefore it is important to inform people about how well the new COVID-19 vaccines work could boost uptake among doubters substantially.

A study by The New England Journal of Medicine, found that vaccines are 66% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection among fully vaccinated adults aged 16 years and older. Another  study from Public Health England (PHE)  which included more than 1 million people in at-risk groups found that overall vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease in risk groups is approximately 60% after one dose of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech, with little variation by age

  • after 2 doses, vaccine effectiveness is 81% with AstraZeneca in people in risk groups aged 16 to 64. No data is available for Pfizer-BioNTech
  • in people in risk groups aged 65 and over, vaccine effectiveness with Pfizer-BioNTech is 89% and 80% with AstraZeneca
  • for those who are immunosuppressed, vaccine effectiveness after a second dose is 74%, with similar protection to those who are not in a risk group. This rises from 4% after a first dose. – Health-e News