South Africans’ response to the vaccine rollout has been largely positive, finds a survey by M4Jam.

In the follow-up to the company’s 2020 survey, 1 000 respondents were asked their opinions, beliefs and concerns about getting vaccinated. Responses were overwhelmingly more positive than they were a year ago, indicating that the rollout and communication strategy is finally paying dividends.

Asked to locate the country’s progress in the fight against Covid-19, 46% of respondents said the worst is yet to come. While this seems a high figure, in 2020 84% of respondents felt that way. 36% said they believe the worst is behind us, compared with just 12% last year. 18% were not sure.

Weighing up the effectiveness of treatments and drugs for people with Covid-19, 27% feel treatment is a lot better (9% in 2020), 46% said treatment is a little better (29% in 2020) and only 9% believe treatment of the virus is worse than it was (39% in 2020).

In 2020 just 17% of respondents believed hospitals in their area could cope with the number of people seeking treatment. This year, 56% of respondents were confident their community facilities could handle the patient load.

M4Jam CEO Georgie Midgley says one response that remained constant between last year and this year was the likelihood of South Africans getting tested if they experienced any symptoms of Covid-19, with 92% (93% in 2020) willing to be tested.

In terms of the vaccine itself, which was still largely hypothetical for South Africans last year, 69% said this year that the vaccine will help save people from Covid-19. Twenty-two percent remain unsure, but while only 32% of respondents last year said they would be willing to take the vaccine, 69% now say they are willing to take the jab. Last year 58% said they wanted to wait to see how effective it was for others before consenting, but that figure has dropped to 22% this year.

“There is a palpable shift in mood that can be read from the responses. Our interpretation of responses this year is that the wait-and-see approach is subsiding quickly,” says Midgley. “News that those who have been vaccinated are not being hospitalised for Covid-19 and are not suffering any severe side effects has clearly swayed anyone who was unsure about going to get vaccinated.

“As more members of extended families receive their jabs, it seems only a matter of time before the floodgates open.”

The main concerns registered about taking the vaccine last year were possible side effects (68%), lack of trust in the government to ensure the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness (50%) and concerns about the recent development and lack of a track record of the vaccine (39%). Interestingly, these concerns persist, even though willingness to be vaccinated has increased markedly.

“It is encouraging that even though South Africans are still worried about certain aspects of getting vaccinated, the evidence is beginning to mount and trust is building. It bodes well for phase 3 of the vaccination rollout, which targets by far the greatest population cohort of the country,” says Midgley.

Nintey-three percent of respondents last year felt the government should issue the vaccine for free when it became available, and South Africans still believe in equal access, with 95% registering their backing for free vaccinations this year. Last year 34% of respondents said they would be willing to pay for the vaccine, which has increased slightly to 38% of respondents being willing to pay this year.

A new question for 2021 was whether respondents had heard any news warning them against taking the Covid-19 vaccine. Alarmingly, 69% said yes. Rumours of this nature included the statements that those receiving the vaccine will die within two years, that the vaccine is not safe because it was developed too quickly, that the vaccine gives people Covid-19 and that it is unsafe for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

“The speed with which false information can spread via social media is clearly a challenge for government agencies, but we need to keep in mind that only a small proportion of South Africans have been vaccinated so far. When vaccinations really pick up the pace and people become more familiar with the science behind the vaccines and their effectiveness, we expect the rumours to dissipate,” Midgley says.