AD500: Lack of trust in government, reliance on social media may drive vaccine hesitancy in Zimbabwe

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Jonathan Kugarakuripi and Stephen Ndoma

More than 3 million Zimbabweans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, out of 10 million the government aims to vaccinate in a bid to achieve herd immunity in a population of more than 15 million (World Health Organization, 2021; Dzinamira, Nachipo, Phiri, & Musuka, 2021).

The government has pushed its ambitious vaccination campaign, launched in February 2021, with a “carrot-and-stick” approach that has included moves to deny civil servants their pay, COVID-19 allowances, and government-provided bus transportation if they don’t take the jab (Reuters, 2021; Zinyuke, 2021a, b). In August 2021, Zimbabwe’s largest workers’ union took the state and several major companies to court for requiring vaccination as a condition of employment (Ndlovu, 2021), but the case was dismissed (Whiz, 2021).

As COVID-19 cases and deaths have increased – to more than 207,000 and more than 4,900, respectively, as of late December (World Health Organization, 2021) – President Emmerson Mnangagwa has stated that “no one can refuse” to be vaccinated (Sibanda, 2021).

How do Zimbabweans feel about COVID-19 vaccination? Among those who are vaccine-hesitant, what is driving their reluctance?

Findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey in Zimbabwe show that about half of citizens are reluctant to take the vaccine, an attitude that is particularly prevalent among the most highly educated and among supporters of the opposition MDC-Chamisa party.

Fewer than half of adults trust the government on two critical issues: its statistics on COVID-19 infections and deaths, and its ability to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe. As misinformation about vaccines continues to circulate on social media, survey findings suggest that vaccine hesitancy is particularly high among citizens who don’t trust the government to ensure vaccine safety and those who use social media as a regular news source.