“We are grateful to be included in the project for demand creation of the COVID vaccine and are excited by what our mobilisers are doing on the ground,” saysNikki Stuart-Thompson from the Choice Trust, one of the 121 NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) who have received grants from the Vaccine Challenge Fund to date.
The Vaccine Challenge Fund was established in September this year by the DG Murray Trust and Tshikululu Social Investments to assist with South Africa vaccination rollout, the largest in history.
The Discovery Fund and the Hotazel Manganese Mine Education Trust (HMMET) have subsequently also made significant contributions towards the Fund, with R 13,5 million already accumulated. The goal of the fund, which will open the third round of submissions in January, is to reach R 30 million by next year.
“The creation of this discretionary pot of funds for qualifying local organisations enables them to mobilise their community to access the vaccine and is an important step in ensuring that no segment of the population is left behind,” says Graeme Wilkinson from Tshikululu Social Investments.
“The funding of civil society organisations brings valuable on-the ground expertise to the national vaccination drive when it is needed most, as the country faces both a fourth wave and a new variant. This initiative is already showing great inroads in creating stronger demand for the vaccine and helping to solve the challenges associated with limited uptake of vaccines by communities across the country,” he says.
According to the latest statistics released on 12 December, 44% of adults in South Africa have been vaccinated. This in stark contrast to the goal set by President Ramaphosa of 70% of adults being vaccinated by Christmas. South Africa is currently vaccinating around 150 000 people per day, against a target of 300 000.
“Inevitably most of the extraordinary resources directed to Covid-19 responses have been in direct support of government’s efforts. Yet it has become increasingly clear that almost every aspect of the national response requires active engagement by every sector of society – from social relief to promotion of personal protective behaviours, to the vaccination programme itself,” says David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust. “Civil society in particular has been instrumental in responding to local needs and building community agency, which is why we created the Challenge Fund – in recognition of the fact that it is community-based organisations that often have the best sense of local dynamics and exactly what needs to be done.”
The CHoiCe Trust, established as an NGO in 1997 to empower rural communities in Limpopo, has used their grant to mobilise teams to carry out awareness raising activities in the communities in which they operate. They target high volume areas, such as malls, as well as door-to-door.
“There are many myths and misconceptions which make people worried about getting vaccinated. There is also not enough discussion about side effects from the vaccination. This means that when people hear about others getting bad side effects, they get concerned about what will happen to them,” Stuart-Thompson explains. “Normalising side effects as something to be expected as a normal process of taking a vaccination helps people to have less fear for this part of the vaccination”.
LifeLine Johannesburg, another grant recipient, is using their existing projects and large footprint comprising 20 sites throughout Johannesburg to engage with thousands of people within their communities accessing their services.
They are also distributing information about the importance of the vaccination on their social media platforms. “Our biggest challenge is shifting myths and conspiracy theories regarding the vaccine, as these beliefs are often strongly held by those people who have bought into misinformation,” says Isabella Holden, Executive Director of Lifeline Johannesburg.
She says that stakeholders and community leaders need to work together to tip the scale in terms of reaching the required vaccination numbers. “We are rolling up our sleeves in the effort towards vaccination and we will have to keep our sleeves rolled up as the COVID-19 virus is here to stay. The vaccine drive is not an event, it is a process,” she says.
The Field Band Foundation is another proud participant supporting the roll-out of the vaccination drive in Kuruman in the Northern Cape. The organisation is liaising closely with the local Department of Health to find ways in which they can support the various vaccination drives held in the area.
The Field Band Foundation, established in 1997, runs programmes utilising the arts in the form of marching bands, as a catalyst to stimulate an empowered, self-confident and healthy community of band members and staff alike.
At first, I was unsure how we could assist as we are not medical staff,” says Project Officer Peter Wonci. “But very quickly we could see that helping with distributing flyers and using the band to entertain and comfort people, was really effective”.
Band members have helped to manage queues of people, ensuring social distancing and helped people to register themselves digitally. They have even travelled to set up their marimbas to provide music to keep people relaxed while the vaccination processes are underway.
He says that many people still have wrong ideas about the vaccine, but with the good information they have and working directly with the local Department of Health, they have been able to discuss and encourage people to take this important step.
At a recent Vaccination Mobilization Review held by C-19 Community Organisation Working Group (COWG), a Round 1 Vaccine Challenge Fund recipient, a spokesperson from the Gauteng Department of Health spoke about the biggest challenge being communication and mobilisation, especially when it come to reaching the youth.
A new initiative, being spearheaded by DGMT and the National Department of Health are Vax Champs, over 5 000 influencers across the country who are deployed to motivate and mobilise their peers to get vaccinated. After all, the most influential person is someone within your community that you know and trust.
Organisations who can assist with the national vaccine roll out will be invited to apply for Round III of the funding early next year.
The Vaccination Challenge Fund continues to advocate for additional contributions from the donor community, in the hope of being able to support more organisations in future rounds to further this national vaccination rollout.