RELIGIOUS leaders should stay behind the pulpit and leave science to lead the way in the country’s efforts to vaccinate the population against Covid-19 as their posturing may discourage uptake of the vaccines, medical professionals have said.
This comes amid revelations that some churches have been stocking up so-called anointing oil to sell to their followers once Government relaxes the current Covid-19 regulations, which restrict gatherings to only 50 people.
It also comes as the leader of UFIC — prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa — has since the outbreak of the pandemic been reassuring his followers that they will be “spared” from the virus through prayer and divine protection.
Makandiwa, who has also been accused of perpetuating conspiracy theories through allusions to the “mark of the beast” that is mentioned in the Bible as he warns his congregants about “microchip” implants, made a climb-down saying he was not preventing people from getting vaccinated but there should be adequate testing of their efficacy first.
Efforts to speak to Makandiwa’s spokesperson Prime Kufa were fruitless as he was not picking his mobile phone.
But Makandiwa’s views that are posted on the church’s media platforms are shared by other church leaders who have a cynical attitude towards vaccination that has historically saved human beings from diseases such as polio and measles, and now Covid-19.
Medical professionals who spoke to The Herald, however, said there was need to follow proven methods to fight the pandemic instead of relying on untested claims and so-called anointed water and oils.
Mpilo Hospital acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said there was no place for quacks in the fight against the pandemic as only science should lead the way.
“We need to disseminate a lot of information because there has been a lot of misinformation around Covid-19 and the vaccines. We need to stop this misinformation from religious leaders, some of whom are very popular because their assertions are not only unscientific but also very dangerous, viral infections cannot be cured by anointing oil,” said Prof Ngwenya.
Most modern day Pentecostal churches rely on selling “anointing” oil to their followers to make huge sums of money.
The secretary general of the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, Dr Norman Matara, said Government should stop people with no medical appreciation from preaching on the virus in unscientific ways.
He said while doctors were initially sceptical, research and reliance on reliable sources of information has resulted in most medical practitioners in the country receiving the vaccine that boosts immunity against Covid-19, a respiratory flue like virus that has killed more than a thousand people in the country and has forced Government to enforce lockdowns to reduce the spread of infections.
“Initially as doctors we were sceptical but after we read medical journals we realised that the vaccine was effective and right now most doctors have been vaccinated basing on scientific research.
“We also believe that our Government should stop people who have no medical understanding and who are not scientists from misleading the population. Right now there is a lot of misconception around the vaccination because of some religious leaders like Makandiwa who have been discouraging people from taking the vaccines,” said Dr Matara.
The country’s frontline workers such as doctors and nurses, along with the elderly and media practitioners have been receiving Covid-19 vaccines in the first phase of the vaccination programme with the Sinopharm jab.
Senior Hospital Doctors Association president Dr Shingai Nyaguse said while Government should continue engaging communities, a lot of influential people were acting as stumbling blocks in the nation’s quest to immunise at least 10 million people so as to achieve herd immunity.
“There are a lot of influential people who have made unfortunate statements on the vaccines. These include religious leaders, maybe they were joking but that doesn’t help anyone,” Dr Nyaguse said.
The Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) president, Mr Enoch Dongo, said it was difficult to build confidence when some people are pulling in the opposite direction.
“When people are de-campaigning the vaccination programme, that in itself has a detrimental effect on the uptake of the vaccines. Religious and traditional leaders should all be brought on board so that they influence their people to take the vaccines,” said Mr Dongo.
The country has so far acquired vaccines from China with more vaccines from India, Russia and the United Kingdom set to arrive in the country as the Government implements its free and voluntary vaccination programme.
Apart from Zimbabwe, Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for market in five countries — United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, China, Bolivia and Seychelles. The vaccines have also been approved for emergency use in 40 other countries including Serbia being the first European country and Hungary the first EU member state to receive the inoculation.