Opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine
Maggie John examines the responses and opposition to the Covid-19 vaccines.
More than sixty years ago, in 1958, the NHS delivered its first mass vaccination programme. Children under the age of 15 were vaccinated against polio and diphtheria. Since the introduction of mass vaccination, people have been sceptical and untrusting.
In 1998, Doctor Andrew Wakefield published misleading information that the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps and rubella) was linked to autism. According to the Independent, “the paper helped lead to a drop-off in vaccination rates and an increase in outbreak diseases such as measles, not only in Britain and Europe, but in the US”. People were frightened and one false claim wreaked havoc. If you’re already slightly sceptical and someone supposedly “in the know” tells you something, it’s easy to believe it. But the consequences can be dire.
There are “17 studies showing no link between autism and the MMR vaccine” but it’s not that easy to change people’s beliefs.
Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases and their success is clear. Our grandparents suffered diseases which we barely recognise the name of anymore, thanks to the developments in mass vaccination. Yet the anti-vaxxer movement has been growing steadily over the last decade. Although anti-vaxxers technically represent a minority of people Medical News Today claim that “around 31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook”. The anti-vaxxer movement is significant and in 2019, the World Health Organisation identified it to be “one of 10 global health threats”.
Anti-vaxxers are people who don’t think vaccines are safe or even necessary. There are also claims that they infringe on human rights or stop nature taking its course. The movement has gained momentum since 1998 and Wakefield’s claims are arguably one of the biggest causes for anti-vaccination beliefs. The situation is not helped because there are a significant number of anti-vaxxers in the public eye, meaning they have an influence over people’s opinions. Jim Carrey, Robert DeNiro and Kat Von D have promoted being anti-vaccination in some form.
Former President of the United States, Donald Trump, is also a notable anti-vaxxer.
There are claims that the vaccine changes your DNA or that its more likely to kill you than disease itself.
Most recently the Covid-19 vaccinations have faced opposition and not just from anti-vaxxers. While the majority of people are in awe of the scientific advancement and are also just desperate for life to go back to normal, many people are sceptical. In the age of fake news, it is far too easy for misinformation and in this case Covid-19 conspiracy theories, to spread and influence people. In France, for example, just 40 per cent of people said that if a COVID-19 vaccine was available they would get it, according to a December 2020 Ipsos survey.
The Metro published an article which “debunked” some of the myths about the vaccine. One thing which has worried many people, is the speed in which the Covid-19 vaccines have been developed. People are understandably nervous about the long-term effects. Yes, Covid-19 is a new virus, but scientists have been studying other coronaviruses, such as SARS for years. Furthermore, trials took place quickly because people volunteered and there was a significant global effort.
The speed with which the Covid-19 vaccines have been developed is a legitimate worry. However, there have been more conspiracy theories on the Covid-19 vaccine. There are claims that the vaccine changes your DNA or that its more likely to kill you than disease itself. Some people believe that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is going to use it to control the world. All of these are false claims with no proof, but they incite fear and make people nervous about getting the vaccine.
It’s very interesting because not only is everyone desperate for normality to resume, but everyone is more than aware of the consequences of Covid-19.
Firstly, the impact of the staggering pressure on the NHS and healthcare workers is heartbreaking. We’ve seen the images of the wards and the exhausted staff pleading with people to take the pandemic seriously. 2.3 million people have died across the world, and in the UK there are currently 12.849 people in hospitals with coronavirus.
But people have suffered in so many other ways too. A lot of people have spent nearly one year away from their friends and families, have had to juggle working from home or studying from home, as well as home schooling children and supporting elderly relatives, for example. It’s been an incredibly stressful and frightening 12 months. People’s mental health has suffered significantly, and the vaccine is an effective way to prevent these consequences plaguing our lives further. Once the most vulnerable people in society are vaccinated, we will notice a consequential difference.
It’s easy to forget, but we’re in an incredibly privileged position where vaccinations are readily available to us. I understand how difficult it is or can be to trust people in power, but we have to trust the scientists and the people who have worked and continue to work tirelessly to roll these vaccines out. And hopefully, relatively soon, we will start to see a sense of normality again.