As the covid-19 pandemic continues, vaccination has become critical to achieving herd immunity which helps to slow down the spread of the disease. The pandemic has caused a decline in the number of children receiving routine immunizations, which could lead to an increase in illness and death from preventable diseases.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Zimbabwe has so far vaccinated 43,294 since the rollout of the vaccine started.
The World Health Organisation has urged countries to ensure that essential immunization and health services continue, despite the challenges posed by covid-19.
Great Dyke News 24 reporter Jeoffrey Ncube (JN) spoke to the Buy Zimbabwe founder and YAFM chairman Munyaradzi Hwengwere (MH) to share how he has coped during the coronavirus pandemic, his experience of receiving the jab and his hopes for the future.
JN: On Friday the 19th of March 2021 you led from the front. You took the jab. What motivated you to get vaccinated?
MH: Yes l got the jab and am very proud of this actually. What motivated me is because as a company, whether you look at me from Buy Zimbabwe or from MEJRKH Communications or from Ray of Hope Broadcasting, our space is a space of assisting our country to transition from one spot to be a better place.
We call ourselves empowerment enablers. We give the power for people to realise the best within themselves and therefore we have cited covid-19 and everyone knows it’s one of the biggest risks to the economic success of us as Zimbabweans.
Look at what Covid has done, the way it has affected livelihoods, the way it has robbed us of our loved ones, the way it has affected the way we do work, and as we’ve been doing since last year we have been active in communicating on the messages of covid-19.
Therefore it was necessary that as a communicator myself, l lead by example. We’ve been saying get vaccinated. Who are we talking to if we’re not talking to ourselves? The mood out there l think it’s different. I’m advised that in Mandava, within Zvishavane the number of health workers who have taken the vaccine is 100%, all of them have taken it.
JN: Has the vaccination message been understood?
MH: Within that space, it means there are front line workers who have understood that this was meant for me, to help me but equally when we were discussing with my teams at MEJRKH Communications and YaFM, l would say more than half are sceptical. They are not front line workers, they don’t have the detail, the understanding of the vaccine. It looks like the further away you are from the primary information the more sceptical you are of the vaccine, so it depends how far away you are from the information and that defines your attitude to the vaccine.
JN: What is the cause of the resistance against the vaccine?
MH: Like l said 100% at Mandava clinic have taken it so within that case there is no resistance at all. l got the gab which means l didn’t resist but you can tell that the people that are not yet in the queue of getting vaccinated are relying on social media and some religious leaders as well as third party opinion.
So with the way l look at it, it depends on how close you are to the primary source of information that gets you to be sceptical and kind of resist and one hopes that the more the vaccines are opened up to the other groups and the more the communication cascades down there will be a better understanding of vaccines. In any case, we have all been vaccinated when we were kids, anyway, there is nothing new here about covid-19. People are saying it used to take 10 years to develop vaccines, that’s such a redundant argument.
JN: How can issues of safety of vaccines be addressed?
MH: When l first came to Harare from Zvishavane when l was in form 4, l woke up early in the morning to catch a bus and the bus took almost the whole day . We got into Harare at 4pm .People used to move from Mberengwa to Zvishavane and it was a days journey but today it takes 30 minutes or so. Do you say how come today’s cars are faster we get to Mberengwa or Zvishavane faster and therefore l would rather prefer the old cars. It doesn’t make sense, society has progressed and so science has progressed as well.
So to me, that does not hold anything about the safety, obviously it’s natural that the new technology whether you’re talking about radio, there is when its being introduced. There was scepticism even with guns themselves.l heard stories that were told of King Lobengula and the reasons why Rhodes triumphed over him is because they had more belief in spears than in guns.
Europeans were much more comfortable with their own technology they took our country because they had advanced technology and we didn’t have that knowledge.
Sometimes because we don’t have the knowledge you get worried, you protect yourself and it is natural that one would want to seek to say l need to be safe.
My general rule has been since l’m not a scientist l must depend on those that are in the frontline. The World Health Organisation, l believe has no interest in killing me and the whole world has taken the vaccine l have taken, why not try it.
So there is a concern about the vaccine and some of the safety concerns are understandable but when the Ministry of Health and Child Care here, WHO and doctors tell me this is safe, who am and do l even have the ability to question them? It’s not my space, I’m trusting those that have the knowledge to do the best.
The other thing is we continue talking to each other, let’s understand that God created the human being and put brains for a reason to think and therefore we must eliminate mystery, eliminate confusion and use science and use reason to say we have heard that only a few people have died from the vaccine. So reasonableness here must really really apply.
JN: As a communicator, how are you dealing with the resistance to vaccines?
What people are not understanding about vaccines is that a vaccine only works to the extent which the majority embraces it. The truth is that the government has actually been nice because this is public health.
Public health means your health affects the next person and so your decision good or bad is a decision you’re taking for the next person around you, so ordinarily, public health must be mandatory.
It must be mandatory to do things that protect the next person so l think what the next person has done is brilliant to say it is voluntary even though it is public health because the expectation is that everyone will realise at the end of the day that my behavior is important to the next person and therefore voluntarily we will make decisions that are good for all of us.
You can see already in Europe that’s what is happening. They are saying it is voluntary but if you want to fly and get to hotels, if you want to work then you need the covid 19 vaccine passport because your decision can harm the next person.
As long as you remain in your space at home but in a public space just like you have to pay to get into a stadium but you can volunteer not to get into the stadium and you can hear about the game so you can see the game is getting there, the concept of head immunity to eliminate covid virus must be when the virus can no longer circulate in society when the majority of society is vaccinated. It means even those that have been vaccinated for many reasons including some reasons that are medical and are protected by the majority.
JN: What do you see as the advantage to vaccination?
When 80% of Zimbabweans are vaccinated the 20% that are not vaccinated for whatever reasons are protected because the virus does not have space to move and to mutate. When 80% are not vaccinated and 20% are vaccinated it means that 20% are not safe. So the vaccine helps us but people don’t understand that the vaccine is not a cure, a vaccine is a trigger of your natural defense mechanism in the body, it tells your body if you see or identify this element fight it and eliminate it.
You may get infected but the illness will not kill you or will not cause severe illness in you, so the vaccine helps your body do what it was always meant to do- it triggers your body to work against a foreign enemy but in Zimbabwe we think that sometimes it’s DNA altering, it makes me stop giving birth , all kinds of conspiracy theories.Some learned people have said there’s a chip inside controlled by Bill Gates who will then say l want to kill Munyaradzi Hwengwere and then they press a button in Europe and then you’re gone or Munyaradzi starts speaking in Chinese or in Russian and then you have the unreasonableness of what is going on in our society .
JN: How should government prepare for succeeding phases of the vaccination programme after the front line workers?
MH: The government has done brilliantly in terms of getting the vaccine but the government should do more in ensuring that the so called opinion leaders in Zimbabwe who are speaking against vaccines come on board and get vaccinated and follow because Zimbabweans rely on those opinion leaders to make decisions. If you hear your, religious leaders, saying they were told by God that if you get vaccinated you die, this creates problems so your opinion leader is critical and so government needs to come up with a clear mobilisation plan.
It is good to work with the public broadcaster. It’s is good to work with the other media houses, but work with all.
There’s no media house that is the enemy of the state if it is spoken to properly. But let’s not say information only goes through these media channels only and these particular channels.
We as Ray of Hope we are concerned for instance that the government chose not to incorporate us in the education campaign radio lessons because we are a private broadcaster. That’s not the way we should do, we understand that at the end of the day all media is public and therefore all media is incorporated and we are willing to play our part in making sure everyone understands the message in Zimbabwe.