In December last year, readers of this site may remember I wrote an article in which I cautioned on condemning everyone who has concerns about the Coronavirus vaccine.
It made the point that there’s a huge difference between those who exhibit hesitancy and militant anti-vaxxers, who receive the most media attention.
Much of my article was based on research by Opinium, the polling agency, which surveyed public attitudes towards the Coronavirus vaccine. Far from suggesting we will soon be under siege from an army of Piers Corbyns, it showed that few people exhibit hardline anti-vaccine sentiment.
However, it’s not uncommon for the public to be anxious about aspects of the vaccine, whether that’s the side effects, or something else.
As the Government ramps up its vaccination roll-out, there will be questions about how to deal with anti-vaxxers. There’s no doubt they exist and can be extremely noisy. But we have to be careful not to exaggerate their number, nor conflate them with people who want more information, nor use the harshest strategies available, such as controlling online misinformation, in a way that’s disproportionate to the anti-vaxxer threat.
Time would be better spent addressing more common worries about the vaccine. While it should be pointed out that most of the population wants a vaccine (YouGov found that only two per cent of respondents were opposed to one generally), several polls have shed a light on some of the groups with apprehension.
One researcher found in a survey of 55,000 people that 18-34-year-old women rated themselves least likely to have a jab, with fears over fertility commonly cited. Australia has seen a similar trend – with 30-39 year old women feeling the most concerned about the jab. Thus its government has released a public information ad to address this.
Research has also shown that ethnic minorities have concerns about the vaccine, with Focaldata finding that just a third (33 per cent) were likely to have a jab. The Government has hired a PR firm to boost take-up among Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and eastern European people, and Nadhim Zahawi, who’s overseeing the Government’s vaccine approach, has also been engaging with BAME and faith communities to support the vaccine roll out.
Lastly, research has also shown that young people rate themselves less likely to take the vaccine, with 36 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds saying they’d have it.
The Government still hasn’t set any sort of target on how much of the population it wants to get immunised yet – much of which depends on how vaccines affect transmission – but it clearly has to think about how to get this cohort on board if it wants a high percentage of the population inoculated.
A Department of Health source informed me that the Government is planning more in the next few days – and that it would probably tweak its current strategy – what that means remains to be seen…
But in the meantime, it’s important that we accurately diagnose the reasons for vaccine hesitancy, instead of going for a heavyweight anti-vax strategy. It doesn’t reflect the data available, and takes resources from where they’re needed most: engagement.