COVID-19 vaccines: Nationalism, Access and Information

On the 13th of March 2021, Africa Unite in partnership with the Global Assembly: Peoples vaccine campaign hosted a webinar on COVID 19 vaccine access and efficacy to engage with the migrant and refugee communities. The event gathered migrant leaders from all over South Africa to discuss vaccine access, efficacy and the dangers of nationalising a resource like vaccines. The discussion centred around the current global COVID-19 pandemic and the fear of a lack of equitable access to vaccines for refugee and migrant communities. The webinar sought to clear up any misunderstandings about Covid-19 vaccines.

Molecular Biologist Cleavon K Cloete addressing the audience on vaccine make-up

We had the privilege to welcome Ms Liliane Mukidi a migrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr Cleavon K Cloete (A Molecular Biologist and Master of Pharmacology from the University of Cape Town) and Mr Danmore Chuma a Journalist a migrant from Zimbabwe.

The topics discussed included vaccine efficacy and make-up as well as the prevention of resource exclusion and profiteering.

Our speakers gave valuable insights into their experiences and expertise: Mr Cloete highlighted that all vaccines undergo strenuous clinical trials to ensure effectivity and safety before being approved for public use and assured the participants that the current batch of COVID-19 vaccines are tested by South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority are safe for use by the general public. He also pointed out that vaccinating people regardless of documentation status in a country is of the utmost importance to gain “Herd Immunity” and bring this pandemic under control. He used a dot colour analogy to explain how infection works in a vaccinated community vs an unvaccinated community.

Ms Mukidi shared her personal battle with COVID-19 being a survivor of the virus. Ms Mukidi highlighted the challenge faced by migrant women due to the nature of the work they tend to do as domestic workers, informal traders and farm workers and that they could afford to stay out of work in order to effectively provide for their families. Furthermore, Ms Mukidi had mentioned that she along with her team of migrant women had been infected with Covid-19. She had also mentioned that her and a group of migrant women led a drive to distribute masks in the townships during the lockdown. Ms Mukidi recommends that migrant women cannot afford to be left behind and should be included and possibly prioritised in the vaccine rollout.

Facilitator Mira Modise conducting a Q&A session near the end of the session

Lastly Mr Chuma highlighted that unity and resource sharing during times of crisis should be the standard procedure and that issues like vaccine nationalism, hoarding and xenophobia will end up doing more harm than good, this virus knows no borders. He also stated that more could be done by State functions and Civil society to design more penetrative information campaigns in order to reach all communities in South Africa and to dispel any fake news in relation to the vaccines and virus circulating.  

The floor was opened to further engage participants and speakers on the topics discussed as well as provide recommendations.

The participants had reached consensus on a number of recommendations which are detailed below:

Firstly, the participants had agreed that more information sharing platforms like the one hosted should be held more regularly to reach more people, working with religious and cultural leaders as well as making use of social media information drives.

Secondly, it was stated that women, religious and traditional leaders should be more proactive in mobilising their communities to demand equitable access to vaccines and other associated resources.

Thirdly, it was suggested migrant and refugee groups should join The Peoples Vaccine Campaign so their voices can be heard.

Finally, it was established, with much agreement that an action group made up of various migrant and refugee groups on COVID-19 vaccines, be formed. Africa Unite has been tasked to convene the first meeting with the task team on the 17th of March 2021.

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