It has now become clear that we must learn to live with the COVID-19 virus. This reality is prompting countries to slowly ease lock down measures allowing people to go back work while observing appropriate physical distance and wearing facial masks. All these measures are ways of buying time as the race for a cure or vaccine gains momentum.
Given the growing negativity towards vaccines, there are concerns about whether a COVID-19 vaccine will be well received or shunned. Science Stories Africa, a communications platform that seeks to improve public perception of science, set out to gauge people’s perceptions towards a vaccine and whether they will use it.
A survey question was posted on the organization’s Facebook page: “If a COVID-19 vaccine were available today, would you voluntarily get immunized?” If one liked the post it meant their response is “yes” while haha referenced “not sure” and the angry emoji meant “no.” Over 400 people responded.
Science Stories Africa cautioned, however, that this was a qualitative rather than a scientific survey, and that publication on a science-orientated social media page could generate a biased sample of responses.
Nine participants replied “no,” seven were not sure and 401 responded that they would get immunized against COVID-19 if a vaccine were available today. Most people said would take the vaccine because of their children and the need to take them back to school. Ugandan scientist Andrew Kiggundu, one of the respondents, said: “Yes… how else are we going to take back children to overcrowded African classrooms and dormitories?”
The general sentiment among the pro-vaccine respondents was the need to go back to living life as normally as possible, i.e., move and live with others without fear of contacting the disease. “Yes…otherwise I would have to spend the rest of my life in fear of being touched…or even just moving out of the house,” one respondent said.
For Esimu Joseph, his reason for receiving the vaccine is premised on his love and understanding of science. “Of course, me and my family and friends and relatives would go for it. That is the beauty of coming from a community that not only knows and understands science but also believes in it.”
However, some respondents said their receptivity to the vaccine would depend on its source. If it is developed by an African country/researcher, they would take it. However, if its origin is the West then they would not take it. This sentiment is premised on news reports that Madagascar has developed a cure for COVID-19. Though the claim is still undocumented, it sent waves of excitement across the African continent. However, the World Health Organization has cautioned against trying untested COVID-19 remedies.
Others who would not take the vaccine reasoned that there are other killer diseases, such as HIV, which do not have vaccines and if we are living with them, then why take a COVID-19 vaccine? However, COVID-19 is easily spread by far more casual contact than is HIV.