Facility Creators Join Efforts to Personalize COVID Immunization

Researchers in South Africa are joining the effort to get members of their community vaccinated against COVID-19.

In early December, hearses began circling the Johannesburg town of Soweto with sirens blaring. Inside are curators with pamphlets. Undertakers are defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “a person whose job is to prepare the dead body to be buried or cremated and to organize a funeral,” a job that is quite similar to that of a funeral home director.

One person taking part in the campaign is Vuyo Mabindisi, who owns and operates Vuyo Funeral Services in Soweto. While handing out flyers about the dangers of COVID-19 and the importance of vaccinations, he told passersby, “We don’t want to see you come to our office.”

Only about 40% of adults in South Africa are fully immunized out of a population of 60 million. More than 3 million cases have been reported in the country since the start of the pandemic, with more than 90,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

Thankfully, the efforts of Mabindisi and other implementers can pay off. Many people have stopped to ask questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, including where they can get it. A church in Soweto is among the places where residents can get the vaccine, which is where banker Thabo Teffo received his first shot. Although he was initially skeptical about a vaccine, he recently changed his mind after a brief health scare.

“That encouraged me to keep getting vaccinated for peace of mind and to protect my family,” says Teffo.

Soweto Undertakers
A woman watches a hearse drive in a convoy through Soweto, South Africa, December 7, 2021. More than 40 hearses have joined the COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaign with the tagline: “We don’t See you soon!”
AP Photo / Jerome Delay, File

A year after the COVID-19 vaccine became available, traditional public health campaigns promoting vaccinations often went unnoticed. So an unusual cadre of people who joined the effort.

They are opening sanctuaries and going from door to door, village to village, touting the benefits of vaccines and sometimes providing injections on the spot.

As the outbreak drags into its third year, with a global death toll of 5.4 million, vaccine promoters are fighting fear, mistrust, complacency, inconvenience and people simply have bigger worries than COVID-19.

Rupali Limaye, a behavioral scientist who studies global vaccine hesitancy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg The School of Public Health, says community-level efforts can resonate more than impersonated mass media campaigns.

Western-made vaccines have demonstrated exceptional safety and overall remarkable effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, and experts say that seems likely. holds true even in the context of the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant. Health authorities warn that low vaccination rates are creating an opportunity for the virus to mutate into new variants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A person cleans a mortuary tray while another closes the lid of the coffin containing the remains of a COVID-19 coronavirus patient at the AVBOB funeral home in Soweto, on July 24, 2020. those making the December 2021 visit as part of their campaign to get people vaccinated.
Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP via Getty Images Facility Creators Join Efforts to Personalize COVID Immunization

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