#VaccinateBotswana: Waiting for your name to be called

Recieving COVID-19 vaccine PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG
Recieving COVID-19 vaccine PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG

President Mokgweetsi Masisi this week began touring some of the COVID-19 vaccination sites to get first-hand experience of what is going on, as Batswana voice their dissatisfaction with the pace of vaccination. On social media, the #VaccinateBotswana hashtag has gone viral, being used by Batswana to urge the government to speed up procurement and distribution of vaccines. Last week’s shock announcement that more than 4,000 cases had been picked over three days, stunned many citizens and the feeling is that behavioural change interventions have reached their limit. Pharmaceutical interventions are now needed, more urgently than before, especially as Batswana bury their loved ones daily.

On Wednesday, the hashtag campaign was joined by an online petition, which exploded overnight with nearly 1,300 people signing on. The petition says by July 31, “the people of Botswana demand that government” give a full account of COVID-19 spending, give details of the strategy, provide evidence of all discussions with vaccine producers, report on all donations given and several other demands.

Leading both the hashtag campaign and the online petition are Batswana in an age group that has been waiting for months while the 55-year-olds and above were being vaccinated. With deaths spiralling, young Batswana have taken it upon themselves to demand that government account and commit.

Earlier this week, the government announced the 30 to 54 years age group would begin receiving vaccines next month while those aged between 45 and 54, would start vaccinating on July 22. The 30 to 54 age group has about 800,000 people, the largest demographic eligible for vaccines and coincidentally, the most economically active of the age groups.

On Tuesday, Masisi arrived at Mochudi Clinic One to much excitement from health officials and ordinary Batswana. He spoke, listened, urged and after he left, Mmegi took the chance to speak to the people on their hopes. Ellen Modise, 39, called on the government to speed up the vaccination process, saying even though vaccination does not cure the virus, it would help the country reduce new infections.

However, Modise also believes it is up to individuals to fight COVID-19 by adhering to the set guidelines and protocols.

“My advice to the public is that while awaiting vaccination, let’s wash hands with clean water and soap, keep social distancing, wear masks and avoid unnecessary travelling. Stop visiting friends and families because you will never know where you get the virus in this pandemic. I am adhering to COVID-19 protocols and I’m ready for the vaccine,” she said. However, not everyone is keen to vaccinate. For instance, Kabelo Moje, 43, said he was torn between vaccinating or not. Moje says the government has ‘terribly failed’ to teach the public about the vaccine and its side effects.

When his turn comes, Moje said he might opt to vaccinate after everyone else because he is afraid of the side effects.

“What will happen to me when I do not respond well to the vaccine and get paralysed or even worse if I die from its side effects? How will the government intervene?

I’m not saying I want something bad to happen because of the vaccine but my fear is how I will be able to provide for my child living with a disability or with my unemployed wife. What if I am the sole breadwinner, what will happen to us?

The government should take responsibility, keep us informed and help us should the vaccine have bad side effects on us,” he said.

Moje also advised people who go for vaccination to tell health practitioners about their underlying illnesses so that they can be advised if the vaccination is good for them or not. He also called on the government to vaccinate everyone irrespective of their age so that those who are eager to be vaccinated can do so. Ontiretse Matlhaga is equally skeptical. The 27-year-old says not enough information is being shared about the side effects of the vaccination.

“At private hospitals they teach their patients about the side effects of the vaccine and even give them pamphlets that teach them about those vaccines and their side effects.

They even go to the extent of advising their patients on what to eat and not.

Right now because people are dying in large numbers due to the pandemic, many of them are under pressure to vaccinate without knowing about its side effects, more especially those with underlying conditions,” he said.

Yesterday Mmegi ran a Facebook snap survey to gauge the readiness for vaccination amongst Batswana aged between 30 and 54. The question was: “When your turn to vaccinate arrives, will you get vaccinated?” Within 30 minutes of posting, more than 100 people had commented. Below are some of the responses:

Leanne Van Zyl“Yes, the quicker we vaccinate the country, the less pressure there will be on our hospitals and clinics. Together we can flatten the curve.”

Eddie Kgosiemang“Since the vaccine doesn’t cure but boosting the immune system (does), I’m physically and mentally fit so I want to give those with some health complications a chance to take the jab. I’ll try it with training and I’m sure I’m going to defeat the virus.”

Rose Tlhokometsi“I think everyone should be vaccinated now because COVID-19 e shenne meno, ngwana, mogolo go tshwana fela, di group dia dia.”

Mogomotsi Kagiso Phale“I for one am very much ready, waiting for my turn to get the vaccine. I know the effects of COVID, emotionally, psychologically and physically so I can’t miss that opportunity.”

Tuelo Cubana Montshonyane“Ready to take the jab, especially that I am in the tourism industry.”

Betty Pee“Have contracted this thing twice. Will be most definitely getting mine. Rate at which I keep on getting this thing no matter how careful I am is so unsettling. Next month is far even. I’m ready!!!”

Sitholile Shingane Likha“Nna ke sharp. Batho ba swa due to COVID ntse ba tsere vaccine.”

Botumile Tumi Mokgwathi“My arm has long been ready.”

Leekete Sebudi“I am not sick but if it comes to that, I will take Ivermectin not vaccine. It has so many flaws.”

Rasta Thazo“I’m ready and I have long registered.”

More comments can be seen on Mmegi Facebook page.

Botswana and other African countries are at the back of the global queue for lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. Another queue exists at a national level, where those aged between 30 and 54, nearly one million people, are also in the queue. As their turn comes up next month, Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE hits the road

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