Covid Comms SA’s Tessa Dooms said on Thursday that the importance of communication has been vital from the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid Comms is a volunteer network of professional communicators, informed by the need to develop accessible, easy-to-understand public health messaging.
Dooms is a sociologist and political analyst with extensive knowledge in youth mobilisation and in the development sector. She was addressing a panel on mandatory vaccination, organised by public interest law centre Section27.
She said the question of trust was very important when it came to the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We need to realise that all the measures put in place are to normalise Covid-19 so that it will not overwhelm public health in the near future,” she said, stressing that it was a mistake for the public to believe we were heading into post Covid-19.
Society, she said, needed to understand that all the measures currently in place were to ensure that the virus was as managed and normalised as any other illnesses.
She said that would help the public healthcare system cope better with the illness.
“Vaccines are one of the big steps towards a normal society where Covid-19 is a disease like any other,” she pointed out.
She said the issue of trust needed to be dealt with, especially in Africa.
She explained that people needed to be given answers when they questioned why they need to be vaccinated.
"Vaccines and vaccine mandates become important conversations when it is not your health alone but when it becomes the health of the public," she said.
Government and industry players, she suggested, needed to share information with the public in order to build trust, adding that public health communication had to improve.
“We cannot start with what people must do before we are willing to tell them why they should do it and before we are willing to have what I call vaccination conversations in this country where we are willing to confront the very real issues people have, the very points of mistrust that they have,” she explained.
Dooms warned that people became suspicious when they were being coerced and said the country must move towards persuasion rather than mandating people.
“Engaging people needs to be done to allay their fears and answer all questions. Vaccine mandates will bring more hesitancy than trust,” she concluded.