Health alert: deceptive COVID vaccine voice notes making rounds

  • The Department of Health has warned South Africans to avoid a voice note circulating containing misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The vote note, making the rounds on social media, claims that the vaccines cause deaths and instead people should treat COVID with activated charcoal.
  • South Africa has a problematic history with health misinformation, especially from public officials.

A voice note laced with misinformation is making the rounds on social media platforms used by South Africans, and the Department of Health (DOH) has warned users this week to watch out for its fake claims about the COVID-19 vaccine.

This voice note, according to the DOH, is circulating on channels like WhatsApp and claims that people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 are dying due to the vaccine. It instead promotes the use of an unregistered over-the-counter product to prevent the more dangerous COVID symptoms.

“Members of the public are urged to ignore this erroneous social media content,” said the DOH in a statement.

“The voice-note has a potential to cause significant confusion, anger, and anxiety especially amongst those who lost their loved ones due to COVID-19 pandemic.”

The product the misleading voice note promotes is “Nature’s Choice – Activated Charcoal” which is claimed to prevent deaths from infection. This specific brand can be purchased from the likes of Clicks and Dis-Chem.

This product is not registered with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), which sets out which medicines or health products are safe for consumption, and especially which actually do what they are supposed to.

Usually, people use activated charcoal to relieve flatulence, DOH explains. It may also be used to help with discomfort after alcohol binges. There is no evidence that it affects COVID-19 infections in any way, either positively or negatively.

However, there is evidence to suggest that taking too much activated charcoal while taking other medication may reduce the medication’s effectiveness.

“The Department advises the public to use any over-the-counter and unscheduled health products with caution, and on advice of a registered health professional.”

DOH continues that there is no new evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine is claiming lives. There were three cases of individuals succumbing to vaccine side effects reported early last year, it adds.

The last recorded COVID-19 variant in South Africa is the Eris variant, which is considered a subvariant of low severity.

South Africa has a troubling history of medicinal misinformation. In the early 2000s, then-President Thabo Mbeki claimed while in office that HIV did not cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), an incredibly problematic statement when you consider South Africa has one of the highest populations of people living with HIV in the world.

Making matters worse was his Health Minister at the time, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang who said that HIV and AIDS could be treated with beetroot and garlic. She was ridiculed internationally and locally for the claims, especially considering her office.

Though vaccination figures in South Africa have seen less and less reporting, as of June 2022 more than half of the adult population of South Africa had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to UNICEF.

“Vaccination provides the best protection from hospitalisation and death,” said Toby Fricker, UNICEF South Africa Chief of Communication, at the time.

While vaccinations are never 100 percent effective, there is strong clinical evidence that says that vaccines do prevent serious infection from the novel coronavirus.

[Image – Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash]


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