Vaccine Hesitancy in Tanzania: Is It Too Little, Too Late?

Updated: Sep 10, 2021


(Image source: Emmanuel Herman/Reuters)


On July 21, 2021, Tanzania finally received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, making it one of the last countries to receive any COVID-19 vaccines. On the African continent, only Burundi and Eritrea are yet to receive vaccines. Tanzania received over one million Johnson & Johnson vaccines following approval by both the World Health Organization and internal verification processions. The vaccine is going to be free, with priority given to health workers, people older than 50, and those with underlying health conditions, as well as the priority is given to the hardest hit 10 regions.


Tanzania Finally Changed Gears on Vaccinations, But There is Still Misinformation.


This vaccination campaign comes after months of vaccine hesitancy from the former late president and government, who stated that vaccinations were dangerous. While this position is dangerous for the country, it is also a very different stance on vaccines than historically seen. In 2014, Tanzania was one of the top 10 countries in Africa for high vaccination rates. But in June 2020, Tanzanians were told to use herbal remedies and that their country was “COVID free.” While the old leadership of anti-vaccine sentiment is now gone following the unfortunate passing of the Tanzania president in March 2021, the anti-vaccine sentiment in society goes much deeper. The new attitude of the leadership does not extend to every member of the government as some continue to spread misinformation about both the pandemic and vaccines.


Millennials Were the Most Untrusting of Vaccines in December 2020.



According to a Kasi Insight survey on trust in the vaccine and its effectiveness, Millennials had the largest increase in those who indicated they did not trust the vaccine between August and December 2020. In August, only 3% of Millennials were untrusting of the vaccine, but by December that statistic skyrocketed to 48%. While that was the largest increase, all demographics become more untrusting as the pandemic dragged on.

Baby Boomers were the most untrusting in August, with 17% indicating they did not trust the vaccine. Gen X and Gen Z were at similar levels to Millennials, at 4% and 5% respectively. However, by December 2020, 30% of Gen Z respondents, 22% of Baby Boomer respondents, and 13% of Gen X respondents were untrusting. While the Tanzanian government must focus on all citizens to trust and get a vaccine, they should focus on Millennials, who are also a huge portion of the workforce.


Targeted Awareness Campaigns are Necessary to Keep Tanzanians Safe.


As vaccines are now in Tanzania, the difficulty will be getting them into the arms of the public. During the pandemic, misinformation was widely spread and actual data on cases and deaths were not reported. Furthermore, traditional medicines are commonly accepted as methods to combat illness, as opposed to vaccines. According to one, of many similar interviews, a Tanzanian man questioned the need for vaccines, or “foreign medicine,” when traditional solutions exist, asking if there is something being hidden by the distributors of the vaccine.


To tackle this misinformation, the government needs to have one message on the importance of vaccines and ensure that all authorities are spreading that one message. If there are combatting views within the government, the people will become less trusting of what is being told to them as there is no consensus. Many people who supported the former later president still believe his message that traditional remedies are enough and to change their minds the awareness campaigns must be targeted towards those kinds of narratives. It will not be enough to give data and statistics about the lifesaving impacts of vaccines, as many western countries have stuck to. The awareness campaigns must be geared towards highlighting the necessity of vaccines in the local context of Tanzania.


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