The Covid pandemic continues to rage worldwide and Malawi has not been spared. The World Health Organisation indicates that nearly 300 million people have been infected with the virus so far out of which 5.45 million have died.
As government and other stakeholders keep pushing for more people to get vaccinated against the virus, conspiracy theories are also hampering the administration of the jabs.
The social media is also awash with misinformation about the vaccines which, coupled with other personal beliefs, is convincing some people not to get inoculated.
Hajira Amidu, from Luciano Village, Traditional Authority Malemia in Nsanje District, is one of the women who were initially reluctant to receive the jab after being fed with incorrect information about the vaccines.
Amidu, 21, has one child and was planning to have her second one the time the country was hit by the second wave of the pandemic.
That time, she decided to receive the vaccine but faced strong discouragement from members of her family and friends.
“They warned me against getting the vaccine, saying I would never have children anymore and that I would fall sick and die.
“At first, I was really afraid of getting vaccinated but later decided to get the shot. I knew several people in my village who got the vaccine and never experienced what cynics were saying,” Amidu says.
She got her first jab on April 24 last year and is now five-months pregnant, very healthy and well alive.
“My relatives and friends said I would never get pregnant after getting the vaccine. Here I am expecting my second child. They said I would die soon; here I am, alive and healthy,” Amidu says.
She is using her own experience to convince other women to get inoculated against Covid and be safe.
Even traditional leaders are excited that the persuasion to have more people vaccinated is coming from those who were initially reluctant to get the shots.
Senior Group Village Head Ndenguma of Nsanje, with over 9,000 households in his area of jurisdiction, says he made the decision to get vaccinated after being concerned with the pandemic’s fatality rate.
He admits that the misinformation that whoever gets the vaccine would soon die was so prevalent in his area that the majority of people began to believe it.
“Eventually, I decided to get vaccinated because I wanted to set an example among my people. I knew my action would dispel the myths and misconceptions that some people have towards the vaccine,” Ndenguma says.
He further claims that after he publicly got his jab, more people are getting their doses as they see that he is not dying and is alive and healthy.
Senior Chief Kapeni of Blantyre has received two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.
He also decided to get the shot as a way of setting an example among vaccine sceptics.
“It is our responsibility as leaders to make sure people are getting correct information about Covid vaccines. We have to ensure our people are protected,” Kapeni said.
The chief wants government to further target some religious leaders who discourage members of their institutions from following Covid preventive measures such as wearing facemasks and getting vaccines.
Such religious leaders reportedly accuse those who seek medical attention as having little faith in God.
“Some members of such religious institutions believe such information and refuse to seek help even when they exhibit symptoms of Covid,” Chief Kapeni says.
He is concerned that some people are losing their lives due to such messages and has called for serious change of attitudes if the country is to defeat the pandemic.
Blantyre District Environmental Health Officer, Myles Mhango, concurs with chief Kapeni.
“There are conspiracy theories shared on social media that are convincing some people not to get vaccinated.
“Some of the messages shared on the social media say the vaccines originate from satanic cults and that once you get them, you immediately get initiated into the cult,” Mhango says.
She further indicates that the Ministry of Health is fighting the rumour mill by going all out with correct messages on Covid vaccines through the media and public address systems going through communities.
Mhango adds that the ministry if also working closely with various stakeholders such as chiefs and other opinion leaders to change people’s view of vaccines.