In mid-July Tanzania received one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine through the World Health Organisation’s Covax programme. As of a week ago or so, it was announced that approximately 300,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered. Which means that in one and a half months, Tanzania has barely made it through a third of the consignment of this potentially lifesaving jab. I find that perfectly within the range of uptake that I was expecting. Tanzania is struggling with vaccine skepticism.
I was a “late” vaccinator because of crowding, time-management and efficiency. Almost all of the reports from early adopters confirmed that my strategy was not foolhardy: long lines, no social distancing, stressed out staff, dubious recording of personal details on the forms, crowds — during a virulent pandemic! And after the vaccine? Variable times on the delivery of the vaccine certificate.
So I went after reports of empty vaccine centres and bored staff became more frequent. Worry not — Covid-19 has been the excuse that introverts like myself have been using to avoid having to leave the comfort of our nests unless we want or need to. There is also less touching from strangers, hey.
It can be amusing getting a vaccine in a vaccine-skeptical country. I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting next to a fellow ‘youth’ who groused the entire time about how he was basically there under duress.
He had to have a vaccine certificate for work purposes. When he managed to pause in-between nervous bouts of complaints, he would ask me leading questions such as “you’re only here because your employer made you come, right?” Nope, I said. He responded “liar!” and then went on to complain some more about the tyranny of the vaccine regimen. Loquacious strangers spouting conspiracy theories are a gift to social commentators, I did not interrupt.
We got vaccinated, wished each other a good day and went on with our day. I hope he’s okay.
While walking away, I heard one of the staff at the centre remark that they had had a “busy day.” Busy? Five people in 45 minutes during the lunch hour on a weekday at a very accessible centre surrounded by offices, commercial outlets and residential neighbourhoods? Yup, that resonated with the fear I have been tracking on social media and though various conversations about this exercise.
Of the 300,000 who have been vaccinated so far only 100,000 are women. After commenting about this online I was met with a musing that this discrepancy might be because women are more “susceptible to misinformation.” I will let you guess the gender of the commenter but no prizes for this one, folks.
As it is, medical literature from around the world suggests otherwise: on average women do work a bit harder to maintain their health by going to the doctor. What else might be happening here?
In a nutshell, digital citizenship. We have a shiny new system of identification in which those who find compliance easy overlap significantly with those who have access to good information, resources, documentation, facilities and gadgets. These can all be barriers to entry for many people who don’t have one or more of these things.
Case in point: from walking in to getting registered on the highly efficient (read: bored and idle) government vaccination tracking system it took me maybe five minutes of fiddling on my smartphone.
While I was doing this I immediately spotted barriers to entry: Sim card registration to the correct individual, possession of a smartphone to make things easier, internet literacy and competence filling in online forms, an ID number whether it be for a driving licence or national ID card or a passport. Of the three only one is offered for free and that only after an encounter with the state that can be off putting.
Many people own or have access to a mobile phone, but not everyone registered their Sim card under their name (don’t ask how I know).
Of these mobile phones, not all of them can get online. As for getting online, this requires the purchase of an internet bundle from the service providers which is not a priority when they offer ‘social media bundles’ that connect you to the Facebook empire but not the internet itself.
All of this stuff costs money, money, money and a little bit of know-what and know-how, all of which are resources.
In a patriarchal society which gender benefits more from the resources in a community than its counterpart? I will let you guess, and again no prizes here folks.
It has been announced by the World Health Organisation that Covid-19 is likely to be like the flu: with us for the forseeable future and prone to frequent mutations.
In some countries this has led to the suggestion that booster shots be considered. Considering that I live in a country of 60 Million people where even administering the one-shot vaccine to one million people has proved to be a challenge, the implications of this are worrying.
Of course there is a way to get vaccinated and certified without using a device, but if we combine the emphasis on using ICT with the fear of the needle, the forecast is not good.
That this is happening in the ‘Age of Information’ bears thinking about.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]