Education officials in Cameroon on Monday reported thousands of parents kept their children home from school because they feared the children would receive coronavirus vaccinations.
A sizable portion of the Cameroonian public does not trust any of the existing vaccines.
One of the parents who kept their children home, a police officer named Willibroad Tabot from a town called Kumba, told Voice of America News (VOA) he is suspicious of the competing vaccine products from various countries and has heard rumors the vaccines have been deliberately sabotaged to kill off Africans.
“Right now, the scientific world is not yet certain on the vaccine. As of now there are different versions; we hear China has its own version, the United States has their own version, maybe Russia has their own version of the vaccine, so I do not trust it. My children cannot take it now. There are also rumors on social media saying that this vaccine is trying to cut down the population of blacks in Africa, so I am scared of it,” Tabot said.
Cameroonian officials lamented the spread of rumors and disinformation, insisting there was no plan to secretly vaccinate schoolchildren without the consent of their parents. Teachers at one high school said 80 percent of their student population stayed home Monday, obliging the teachers to send them homework via social media while pleading with their parents to let them return to school.
Three students were reportedly injured in Kumba on Tuesday when rumors of vaccination sparked a stampede to escape the school.
Health Minister Manaouda Malachie insisted in a state media interview on Monday night that Cameroon’s coronavirus situation is not yet “alarming” and does not require a vaccination campaign. Cameroon has reported 33,740 cases of Chinese coronavirus to date, with 523 fatalities.
Malachie added that if vaccines are eventually distributed, participation in the program will be entirely voluntary.
African Arguments noted in January that Cameroon and other countries in the region have a history of “vaccine hesitancy,” frequently involving rumors that vaccines are toxic products designed by malevolent Western powers to reduce the excess African population. A notable previous example was a rumor in the 1990s that scuttled a major global immunization campaign by convincing Cameroonians the shots were secretly designed to sterilize women.
Recent polling suggests that only 62 percent of Africans would “definitely” or “probably” accept a coronavirus vaccination, which is well short of the level needed to achieve general immunity.