Editor's Note

On 17 February 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the Khayelitsha Hospital in Cape Town. This vaccine only requires one shot and it can be stored in a normal fridge making it logistically easier to distribute in remote parts of South Africa. Photo: Jeffrey Abrahams/GroundUp

More than a year since the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 in South Africa, almost all of us know someone who has been infected with the virus or taken by the COVID-19 disease it causes.

Since the start of 2021, the issue of vaccination has dominated news about the pandemic. Results from new clinical trials showed that some vaccines were not sufficiently effective against 501Y.V2, a new variant of the virus, principally responsible for the December 2020 infection peak in South Africa.

Faced with complex scientific concepts, a deluge of online misinformation and disinformation and the memory of some questionable early lockdown regulations, people’s willingness to trust scientists and the government has been tested.

Realising that people’s attitudes towards vaccines would be key to successful vaccine drives this year, researchers from the HSRC and University of Johannesburg focused on this matter in Round 3 of the UJ-HSRC COVID-19 Democracy Survey, which was conducted during the December infection peak. We feature some of the survey findings in this edition of the HSRC Review. Asked if they would take a vaccine if offered, just more than two-thirds of respondents indicated they were willing, but 16% were not. The researchers called for targeted vaccine literacy campaigns.

In the meantime, South Africa’s vaccine scientists and the department of health have embarked on remarkably open communication efforts to convey the scientific evidence. Some veteran health journalists, many of whom had worked during the era of HIV/Aids denial two decades ago, have also helped to get the facts out. 

In this edition, HSRC science communicator Kim Trollip writes about the value of effective and well-targeted messages. She shares some practical tips on communicating research and highlights the importance of telling stories through the perspectives of people who are living through them.

Since March last year, HSRC researchers have been working on a variety of COVID-19 projects. In line with the organisation’s mandate to inform policy, our researchers have collated much of this work in the form of policy briefs. Some of the key recommendations are highlighted in an article by Dr Konosoang Sobane and her colleagues.

Also, as at many other institutions, HSRC staff have been working from home for more than a year now. It was a learning curve, which prompted the organisation to host the ‘Working from anywhere: Views, evidence, experiences and recommendations’ symposium in January 2021. Krish Chetty and Shirin Motala report on some of the discussions that took place. Interesting issues included the responsibility of organisations to ensure the health and safety of remote workers, the importance of technology, how to preserve workplace culture, and the extent to which a remote-work policy will become a negotiation tool to attract top talent globally.

We would like to hear your thoughts on these and other articles. Please feel free to contact us on the email addresses provided.

Antoinette Oosthuizen