Gish said her church plans to send out more than 650,000 messages with a “pro-vaccine bias.” But the program will roll out over a few months in a process of “COVID sensitization” and the church is not demanding followers get the vaccine immediately, Gish said.
While slow and steady might be best in dealing with some religious hesitancy, the situation is urgent in Africa, which has the world’s lowest vaccination rates. Zimbabwe has fully vaccinated 15% of its population, much better than many other African nations but still way behind the U.S. and Europe.
So Binda and her fellow campaigners are adaptable if it means changing attitudes a little bit quicker.
One problem they’ve encountered is stigmatization. Some church members are willing to get vaccinated but don’t because they fear being ostracized by peers and leaders. The phenomenon led to campaigners advising the government not to bring mobile clinics to secluded Apostolic groups like the one in Seke, fearing that a public show of vaccinations would do more harm than good.
Instead, vaccine campaigners who normally advocate for openness sometimes encourage secrecy.
Alexander Chipfunde, an Apostolic member and vaccine campaigner who works alongside Binda, told the Seke congregants there was a way to avoid stigmatization.
“Go to the hospital, get vaccinated and keep quiet about it,” he said to them. “It’s your secret.”
Associated Press writer Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared here.