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Nearly half of South Africans say prayer more effective against COVID-19 than vaccines: study

Lethebo Rabalago
Pastor Lethebo Rabalago of Mount Zion General Assembly in the Limpopo province in South Africa sprays "Doom" pesticide in a woman's face in this undated photo. |

Despite thousands of new COVID-19 infections being discovered daily along with hundreds of deaths from the disease, nearly half of South Africans trust prayer as a more effective remedy against it than approved vaccines, a new survey shows.

Findings from the Afrobarometer survey of 1,600 adult South Africans conducted May through June 2021 was published Wednesday. Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network that provides reliable data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance and quality of life.

“Nearly half of respondents believe prayer is more effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission than a vaccine," the report reads. "For policy makers and civil society, these findings suggest that a successful vaccination campaign will require greater public awareness of the benefits of accepting approved COVID-19 vaccines, and they point to a need for greater accountability in the use of pandemic-related resources."

According to the survey, as of July 26, over 6.6 million of South Africa’s nearly 60 million people had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, only people over the age of 35 are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

Fewer than three in 10 South African adults (28%) say they trust the government “somewhat” or “a lot” to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Meanwhile, 43% say they are “somewhat” or “very” likely to try to get vaccinated, and 47% of respondents believe prayer is "more effective" than a vaccine in preventing COVID-19 infection.

South African officials have tried to contain the virus by instituting one of the most restrictive lockdown policies in the world. But many citizens find it difficult to abide by the restrictions as a third wave of the coronavirus sweeps the country.

White House officials revealed Wednesday that the U.S. government would send nearly 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Nigeria and South Africa, Reuters reports. South Africa is expected to receive 5.66 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, representing the single largest shipment of vaccines overseas since the pandemic began.

"We are happy to announce that we will be sending over 5 million doses to South Africa … of Pfizer vaccines as well as 4 million doses of Moderna vaccine to Nigeria," Dana Banks, senior director for Africa at the U.S. National Security Council, announced Wednesday.

"So we’re very excited about that and we hope that these will go a long way in helping to provide safety and health security for the people of Nigeria and South Africa, which will then enable them to get back to their regular activities, their economic activities, and help them to build back better."

At a media briefing Thursday, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said the death toll from COVID-19 had jumped 17% in the past month in the continent's most populated countries. 

"There has been an average increase of 4% of new cases over that time period. … In terms of new deaths in the last four weeks, we’ve recorded an average of 17% new deaths [in the continent’s most populous countries] over same period," the agency’s head John Nkengosong said.

"In terms of testing as a continent, as of today, we have conducted about 58 million COVID tests, and last week alone, the continent conducted about 1.3 million tests. But that represents a decrease of 19% over the previous week."

The Africa CDC blamed increased deaths on virus-spreading events, such as recent looting in South Africa and the celebration of Eid al-Hajj, the end of the Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca. 

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