President Cyril Ramaphosa referenced disinformation and conspiracy theories in his January 11 Covid progress speech.
It was an emotive warning from the boss. I recently contracted the virus. It’s atrocious.
It holds you down and rips away your spirit. You get anxiety. You hyperventilate.
When the president said “there are still some (people) in our country who are sceptical about vaccines, and there is much disinformation and conspiracy theories being spread about the Covid-19 vaccines”, I could feel his nervousness.
A reality check. When you have lost a loved one to the virus, or you are rushed into ICU in an ambulance on New Year’s Eve (that was me) where you sit on a hard cold chair for 24 hours because there are no beds, you start getting real.
The president is restless for good reason. Ill-informed disease narratives and conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 vaccine pose risks to our nation.
Panic, angst and pivoting around fear will not foster responsible behaviour to get our citizens vaccinated.
As we move to extended lockdown conditions, it is time to take a deep breath and re-evaluate how we have been dealing with the process, and how we plan to come out of it.
Our nation is going through the stages of grief and I anticipate that the last stage (acceptance) will be that of Ubuntu. Together we can beat this.
I want to deeply extend empathy to those of you whose lives have been unsettled because of disinformation or conspiracy theories. Often what happens is that the “information” created is slightly based on a truth.
For example, there have been alarms raised about probable links between adverse health consequences and 5G. Conspiracy theorists claimed that it would alter your DNA.
A microchip, linked to cell towers via 5G technology, would allow for population surveillance if we got vaccinated. However, these assumptions have zero scientific links with Covid19 vaccinations.
Also consider the amount of time between the onset of this pandemic and the point at which researchers could provide a Covid-19 vaccine.
It breeds information vacuums and in a situation of distress, we demand speedy responses. So these vacuums are then filled by disinformation, conspiracy theories, and our citizens becoming unnecessarily stressed.
This is perpetuated by anti-vaccination and conspiracy-theory groups who promote their own narratives, agendas and social motives.
Allow me to define fear as an acronym for your nervousness around the Covid-19 vaccine. Make this your mantra. FEAR is: False Evidence Appearing Real. Our natural response to fear is to overreact.
The secret is how to catch the fear response and create a bit of space before you react.
The real vaccine to our recovery is awareness. President Ramaphosa referred to vaccines that have been used to eradicate diseases such as smallpox and polio.
I believe he was simply trying to say “Guys, this is normal”.
It is now pivotal to respond to Ramaphosa’s speech with wisdom and compassion.
In closing, if President Ramaphosa agreed to be the first South African citizen to be Covid-19 vaccinated, I will stand beside him in that queue of our front-line heroes.
I’m not getting Covid-19 again.
The author, Henry Bantjez, is a corporate psychology coach.