While mandates — a blunt no vaccine, no entrance rule — is the way to go for some, there’s a subtler approach for the Apostolic and other anti-vaccine Pentecostal groups, partly, but not only, because they are deeply suspicious of vaccines.
Apostolic groups generally have no formal church premises and members, striking in the long white robes they wear to services, worship outdoors in open scrubland or hillsides, in locations widely spread across the country.
That makes gatherings much harder to police and mandates almost impossible to enforce.
Binda is one of nearly 1,000 members of various religious groups recruited by the Zimbabwean government and UNICEF to try gently changing attitudes toward vaccines from within their own churches.
“We have to cajole them,” Binda said of her fellow Apostolic churchgoers. “Bit by bit they finally accept.”
But it’s rarely a quick conversion.
“We are accepting that the Holy Spirit may not be enough to deal with the virus,” Seke Apostolic leader Mudzoki said. “We are seriously considering vaccines because others have done it. But our members have always been wary of injections.
“So for now we need soap, buckets, sanitizers and masks,” he said. “Those are the things that will help protect us.”
Churches have taken steps to address hesitancy in other parts of Africa. The United Methodist Church, based in the United States, plans to use a mass messaging platform to send text messages to the cellphones of around 32,000 followers in Ivory Coast, Congo, Liberia and Nigeria. The initial aim is to dispel disinformation.
“There’s quite a bit of messaging centered around reaffirming for people that the vaccine is safe, that it’s been tested,” said Ashley Gish of United Methodist Communications. “The ingredients are safe for use in humans and will not make you magnetic — that was a huge one that we heard from a lot of people.”