“It’s A Conspiracy!”: Britain’s Anti-Vaxxer Campaigners:

They’re a medical marvel which has saved more lives than any other human innovation apart from clean water”. This was the view expressed by the Guardian columnist Leo Cendrowicz on 24th February in his analysis of the reasons for the “vaccine hesitancy” currently evident across much of Europe. Instead of being shunned, he declared, “the astonishingly rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines should be celebrated as a triumph of ingenuity”.

Niall McCarthy, a data journalist for the Statista research organization, has pointed out that it’s Europe, not the USA, that has the dominant share of global vaccine production (76%, compared to 13% for North America and 8% for Asia) and hence where a large proportion of its research and development activities are located. Despite this, as Cendrowicz observed, a 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor survey revealed that only 59% of people in western Europe and 40% in eastern Europe consider vaccines to be safe, compared with 92% in Eastern Africa and 95% in South Asia.

Furthermore, affirmed Wellcome, one in three of the population in France distrust vaccines, a percentage higher than any other country. Another poll, conducted by the Ipsos Global Advisor & World Economic Forum and cited in the Irish Sun on 11th March, has indicated that just 40% of French people want the “jab”, mainly due to fear as to the possible side-effects. The French health sociologist, Dr Caroline De Pauw, attributes this to previous health scares,especially the hepatitis B and multiple sclerosis scandals of the 1990’s associated by the public with the pharmaceutical industry, as well as the traditional French disenchantment with their Government and the political elite.

De Pauw perceives the British as being “far more pro-vaccination than the French”. This would appear to correlate with the latest figures issued by the Office For National Statistics (ONS) on 1st April. These show that 94% of adults in the UK are in favour of the vaccinations. However, 6% are still hesitant about having one, particularly those aged between 16-29, followed by those from the ethnic community, parents living with a dependent child aged 0-4 years and adults in England’s most deprived areas. There has nevertheless been a significant increase in vaccine acceptance in all of these categories since the previous 24-28 February period.

The most common reasons for “negative vaccine sentiment”, states the ONS, are: concerns about the side effects (44%), the potential long-term consequences for their well-being (43%), a preference to wait to see just how effective the vaccine is (40%) and they believe it will be too risky to have one (24%). Other explanations are that they don’t feel they are in personal danger from Covid-19, they are worried the jab might be painful, and they are against vaccines in general.

Aaron Kandola, a contributor to Medical News Today, on November 4 highlighted the fact that it’s this last justification that most characterises anti-vaccine supporters, They consider vaccines to be “unsafe, an infringement on their human rights and typically deny the existence or validity of the science”. The “anti-vaxxer movement”, Kandola noted, dates back to the 18th century in North America, where religious leaders denounced vaccines as the “devil’s work” and it was given an impetus in the UK in 1998 when The Lancet, a respected scientific journal, published an article by the former medical doctor, Andrew Wakefield, suggesting a link between the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine and autism in children.

A British Medical Journal investigation subsequently found Wakefield guilty of deliberate fraud and his medical licence was revoked by the UK’s General Medical Council. Despite being professionally discredited, his contentions – as the Evening Standard columnist, Katie Strick, emphasised on 21st September in a feature captioned “The Alarming Rise of The Anti-Vaxxers” – remain influential among vaccine sceptics, many of whom are apparently also either pandemic deniers or blame the coronavirus outbreak on a conspiracy led by “Big Pharma, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the World Health Organization”.

Anti-vaxxers, reported the Pharmaphorum correspondent Phil Taylor on December 2nd, “have been responsible for promulgating a series of fantastical rumours and theories about anti-covid-19 vaccinations”, including the persistent claim that, during the procedure, people are being planted with a microchip that will subsequently be used to track them. According to the “Techjournalist” website on March 24th, the major UK anti-vaxxer and anti-lockdown groups “have migrated to new social media platforms after Twitter and Facebook censored their content due to the disinformation and misleading claims they were propagating”.

Despite the concerns of the MHRA(Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agencies) regarding the possible adverse impact of the anti-vaccine rhetoric, the UK’s anti-coronavirus vaccination programme has been hailed as a “resounding success” by the British Government, its medical & scientific advisors and even by most of the media, with around 33 million people having so far received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Oxford /AstraZenica versions and more than 5 million their second one.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on April 4th, 2021 by Colin D Gordon

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