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COVID-19 in SA: Young people keep vaccine numbers low

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The government is urging young people to get vaccinated. (Photo: Freepik)
Written by Lilita Gcwabe

The low number of 12 to 34-year-olds getting their COVID-19  vaccines has played a part in the country failing to get 70 percent of South Africans vaccinated. The youth make up more than a third of the country’s population.

The latest vaccine statistics indicate that just over 1 million children between 12 and 17 years old are vaccinated, and 6 million people between 18 and 34 have received their dose. The 18 to 34-year-old age group is the largest cohort in SA.

Dr Busi Kabane, a post community service Doctor who works on the Demand Acceleration Team for the Douglas Murray Trust (DGMT) said the age group 12 to 35 has been slow to come forward and get vaccinated.  “Only around 30% of that age group is vaccinated or has received at least one dose of the vaccine,” said Kabane.

DGMT is an NGO that is in partnership with the Department of Health and other civil society organisations to increase vaccination uptake in SA.

Access remains a barrier

Kabane said this was a concern because this group makes up the majority of the South African population.

“With them being slow to come forward and get vaccinated, it’s taking us time to reach the 70% target of a fully vaccinated population. We have also observed that access is still an existing problem for many young people because unemployment is a problem that can limit their access to the vaccine. So, even when they are near a vaccine site, they may not have money to commute or time to do so.”

Lebo Motshegoa, Youth Mobiliser and Content Lead for the Demand Acceleration Task Team working with the National Department of Health, pointed out that more youth are getting vaccinated than other age groups.

“We can see that the ages from 12 to 35 are getting vaccinated and are coming in their numbers, but because their cohort is huge. It will take longer to cover more of them,” he said.

Vaccine demand declines

Kabane said demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has declined since the initial roll-out in 2021. “Contributing factors like the country opening up, lower lockdown levels, and slower infection rates decreased the urgency and the necessity to get vaccinated in people’s minds,” she said.

Kabane also noted the prevalence of “covid fatigue” amongst young people and the concerns that parents have about their children getting the jab.

“They are tired of talking about covid-19 and the vaccine. They are tired of wearing masks and living in a pandemic. Many of them just want to put it behind them, which contributes to their taking their time to get their vaccines.”

Motshegoa said this fatigue contributes to the low vaccination numbers.

“Many of them no longer see the need to get vaccinated because they think they are less at risk of getting infected with covid-19. This is simply not true because we still see numbers increasing across the country.”

He added that more questions about vaccine safety have come up since last year.

“Many young people have started to link the covid-19 to death. On social media and in conversation amongst the groups we work with, they refer to celebrities and people they had heard about who had gotten the vaccine by the time they passed away and linked it to the vaccine.”

He said that a lot of misinformation and fake news about the side effects of the  COVID-19 vaccine continues to circulate on social media. 

Kabane said the misconception that COVID-19 only severely affects the elderly or people with existing conditions persists. She advised youth should assume immunity just because they are young.

“Even for unvaccinated young people, they still have a route of being hospitalised and even dying from covid. And what we saw in the fourth wave is that a lot of the serious cases that were hospitalised and sent to the ICU for intensive care were people under the age of 35 and unvaccinated,” said Kabane.

Battling misconceptions

The government is trying to battle the misconceptions with a social media campaign. 

“We even have a WhatsApp line and the helpline, a Coronavirus Helpline, which has helped many people have their questions answered. It’s helped many people gain access to the vaccine certificates to know when the next dose is and to gain access to that vaccine certificate to get into their music concerts or sports stadiums,” said Kabane.

Both Kabane and Motshegoa vouched for the success of the school-initiated programmes by the Department of Health.

Gauteng Department of Health spokesperson Kwara Kekana said various programmes aim to get more youth vaccinated. These include the Street to Street campaign, Vooma Vaccination Weekends and Youth Focus.

These initiatives all take the vaccines to the doorsteps of communities in sub-districts, extending access to vaccination services and Continuing engagements with young people on multiple platforms. 

Kekana said so far, 88 teams have been allocated to 1435 schools to make vaccines more accessible. – Health-e News


About the author

Lilita Gcwabe

Lilita is a multimedia journalist with an interest in rural advancement in the health and agricultural sectors. She’s committed to reporting on social justice, and early childhood development. Lilita believe in the power of representation, as an essential means of rewriting our stories.

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