To take or not to take the vaccine? Why is that the question?

Vaccines (coming from the Latin translation of “cow” or “vacca”) originated through the experiments of an English scientist Edward Jenner in 1796 who was trying to cure smallpox. Since then, vaccines have been produced for a variety of serious maladies and have without a doubt saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives. 

The COVID-19 strain of coronavirus has caused significant changes in life-style and perspective, but when the Pfzie/BioNtech Vaccine was announced to be 90% effective on initial data, the light appeared at the end of the tunnel.

And yet on the 2nd December, a YouGov Poll revealed 20% of British adults were “not very confident” to “not at all confident” in the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine that had been produced. On 10th December, 12% said they felt that the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine was “somewhat unsafe” or “very unsafe.” Additionally, 11% felt the same way about the Oxford – AstraZeneca vaccine. The highest proportion of those disclosing their dislike came from the 18-24 demographic. 

This worry about vaccines and their potentially harmful effects isn’t new or specific to COVID-19. According to surveys completed in February 2019, 1 in 5 Brits believe it is probably or definitely true that vaccines have harmful effects that are not disclosed. Interestingly, the biggest age group who did not think that vaccines are potentially harmful were the 18–24-year-olds.  

However, it was also revealed that 37% of the British population support the vaccine becoming mandatory whilst 44% oppose mandatory status (YouGov). Yet only two weeks prior on the 17th of November, 49% supported compulsory vaccination and 34% it. So, in the case of COVID-19, what has changed?

According to new research done by King’s College London and Ipsos Mori, “one in three people in the UK (34%) say they’ve seen or heard messages discouraging the public from getting a coronavirus vaccine”, with 26% of Brits reporting the message from social media. This would indicate the change in views of the 18–24-year-old who are most active on social media.

But what is the solution, if one is needed?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for prosecution of anti-vaxxers. This was followed by esteemed biologist Professor Robert Winston appearing on “Good Morning Britain” to disagree, suggesting that prosecution would have an adverse effect on vaccination attempts. Instead we must focus on better education surrounding vaccines, addressing the lack of trust  in the government’s overall message.

In terms of social media and exposure, a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson confirmed to ITV that “we have set clear expectations of tech firms that they must play their part and act quickly to tackle mis- and disinformation on their platforms, and we will hold them to account for this.” 

This comes after a meeting in November resulted in an agreement between the government and tech companies, “that no users or companies could profit from falsehoods shared about Covid-19” and promising there would be a “timely response to content flagged by the government.”

With 2.4 million people vaccinated, as of January 11th, this debate is far from over. As more data comes in about how those who have received that vaccine comes in, a clearer picture continues to be painted . But whatever it looks like, the vaccine is here to stay. 

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Freyja Elwood

March 2021
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