Research conducted in 2017 showed that objections to vaccines among members of the Apostolic Church were linked to the increase and spread of measles in southern Africa between 2009 and 2010.
Cults that stand out for their white garments and outdoor worship are estimated to have nearly five million members in Zimbabwe, or a quarter of the country’s population.
Zimbabwe will build on these sects and all groups within the immunities embracing the COVID-19 vaccination program to achieve its goal of vaccinating at least 60% of the population by the end of the year.
The government believes the threshold will be sufficient to achieve collective immunity and Mapondera says the target is not being overstated as more and more members of his church are interested in the immunization program.
She is one of the beneficiaries of COVID-19 awareness programs targeting interfaith leaders which are led by the Apostolic Women’s Empowerment Trust (AWET) to address vaccine reluctance in 52 districts of Zimbabwe.
AWET, supported by UNICEF with funding from the Development Fund for Health (UK Aid, EU, SIDA-Sweden, Irish Aid and GAVI), complements the Department of Health and Child Welfare by prioritizing community engagement activities to improve uptake of COVID-19 vaccines.
Collaboration with interfaith and community leaders is helping to change negative perceptions about COVID-19 vaccines that have been attributed to widespread misinformation and long-held religious beliefs.
“In my church, I see a lot of people adopting vaccines because they now understand that their lives and the lives of their loved ones depend on being vaccinated against COVID-19,” Mapondera said.
“No pastor or elder will kick me out of church because I got the vaccine, it’s now a matter between me and God.”
Amos Karwizi (73), who heads a Johanne Marange sect in Finland’s Hurungwe region, said he decided to get the vaccine voluntarily for the first time in his life after participating in COVID awareness programs -19 led by AWET.
“For the first time in over 60 years that I have been a member of the church, I made the decision to get vaccinated after attending meetings where AWET taught us about COVID-19.”
He believes that when religious leaders adopt the immunization program, their followers will follow.
“Some thought that the vaccines would cause impotence or would deplete their energy and make it difficult to work in the fields, but it has been two months since I was vaccinated and nothing has happened to me,” Karwizi said.
“When I talk to people in my church, I tell them that the government encourages everyone to get vaccinated and I try not to give the impression that I am questioning the doctrines of the church.”