The College of Humanities and the School of Education’s webinar on Critical Perspectives on Vaccine Hesitancy featured Professor Suleman Dangor; Dr Mayashree Chinsamy; and Professor Pratap Kumar Penumala of UKZN and Reverend Siphiwe Ndebele (Baptist Convention of South Africa). The session was facilitated by Dr Lokesh Ramnath Maharajh (UKZN).
The webinar responded to the question, how are religious institutions, beliefs, leaders, and practices contributing—positively and negatively—to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and response?
In his introduction, Maharajh said, ‘Engaging religious communities in global vaccination efforts is a continuing theme and challenge. Collaboration among faith leaders is possible and essential in the fight against COVID-19.’
Dangor’s presentation examined the attitudes of Muslim scholars, scientists, doctors and the lay public on vaccination, focusing on the coronavirus vaccine. He presented arguments for and against vaccinations based on science, theology and conspiracy theories.
‘The overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars in South Africa are in support of vaccination. There is a sizeable minority who are either opposed to vaccines or hesitant. For some their hesitancy is based on science, where they are not sure that the vaccines are safe enough and argue that not enough trials were conducted to convince people that they actually work,’ said Dangor.
Penumala reflected on the global and local impact of COVID-19 on the Hindu community. ‘Responses to COVID-19 from a religious point of view have varied. In South Africa, the Hindu response has generally been positive in that no major opposition to health mandates prescribed by the government in line with scientific recommendations has been witnessed thus far. The extent to which individuals actually follow those protocols may vary, and perhaps needs closer study at the level of local communities,’ said Penumala.
Ndebele focused on religious institutions’ contribution to combating the coronavirus: ‘Religious institutions definitely play a role during the era of COVID-19 as they are the cornerstone of our communities. Society looks to religious leaders and institutions for guidance and support at this time.’
He said that ‘many Christian leaders supported vaccines, but some used their religious authority to mislead people against it. The religious sector has had to stand up and correct the wrong doctrine publicly.’
Chinsamy looked at indigenous knowledge conceptualisations of vaccine hesitancy, providing a holistic understanding of a complex global challenge. She noted that, ‘medical communication and information on vaccines tend to be shared in a digital space to which marginalised communities and social groups have no or limited access or cultural association.’
Chinsamy suggested that understanding pandemics including COVID-19, from local community-based knowledge and attitudes, especially socio-cultural, linguistic, economic, ecological and political imperatives in terms of vaccine intentions, could assist policy makers and other stakeholders to increase vaccination uptake and achieve herd immunity.