The Government is Failing to Promote the COVID-19 Vaccine

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The vaccine rollout has begun. With a third Covid vaccine added to our armoury and over 1,100,000 vaccinated as of the 7th January, we are catching glimpses of normality over the horizon. But as vaccination efforts shift towards the less vulnerable, we could soon begin to see the uptake statistics plunge. If complacent or less-vulnerable people avoid the vaccine, we might just miss out on the herd-immunity that could quash the viral spread.

The latest study from market research group Ipsos has shown that outlooks towards the vaccine aren’t quite as positive as most of us hope. There’s a strong conviction, amongst many members of the public, that this vaccine will be accompanied by insidious and unforeseen side effects. Boris Johnson’s bombastic twaddle was never destined to lead a nation through a crisis. His government’s haphazard communication strategy could have consequences far too desperate to be laughed at.

The Ipsos survey registered responses of Strongly Agree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree or Disagree to a series of questions about attitudes towards the COVID-19 vaccines. As of December 20th 2020, just 46% of UK citizens surveyed expressed a strong willingness to take a COVID vaccine. This means that 54% of the UK’s population is experiencing some form of hesitancy towards the vaccine! 

Staggering, though, is that 24% of people surveyed either disagreed or strongly disagreed that they would get a covid vaccine. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 65-70% of the population must be vaccinated to reach herd immunity, leaving the UK worryingly close to the cusp of failure. 

The herd immunity threshold is the only way to find relief from this virus. Without it, social restrictions and lockdowns are an endless inevitability. Any nation that fails to hit this immunity threshold will continue to fester in the viral spread – languishing as the rest of the world recovers. 

Most often, vaccine sceptics adduce the lack of long term clinical studies, where others cite the feeble sample sizes used in trials. In either case, people seem to be overwhelmingly consumed by the possibility of side effects of the vaccine. 

But the fact is that sceptics, like most people, routinely accept medical treatment with very little knowledge of its underpinning science. So why are people, who so routinely put their blind faith in medical science, getting cold feet? 

It’s becoming clear that – as we fester in uncertainty and incoherence – fingers again point to our government’s gruesomely shoddy communication skills. Millions of UK citizens – stuck at home and unable to see their loved ones – are desperate to claw back their basic freedoms and will not budge on their vaccine stance until they know they’re safe.

£130 million has been spent on PR since the beginning of the pandemic. Challenged by Kier Starmer, Johnson alleged that the money was spent to raise vaccine awareness and “fight the anti-vaxxers”. The clarity of communication from the government, though, has been shambolic. Why anybody thought they’d have trouble raising awareness of a potential vaccine against COVID-19 is mind-blowing. Anyway, fighting anti-vaxxers: isn’t this, in a way, the real failure here? 

Scenes at the Anti-Lockdown protest on the 5th November 2020

This survey report proves that, if anything, they’ve produced anti-vaxxers; these stats show a massive surge of doubt when you compare them to pre-COVID studies of vaccine hesitancy. £130 million blown and a huge proportion of the country have lost faith in, perhaps, the world’s most treasured medical institution.

They’re worried about the rushed development, the lack of long-term trialing and the possible tempering of regulations to get a vaccine out; all of these worries could be easily addressed by an effective messaging campaign. What people need is detailed and comprehensive insight into the regulations that these vaccines are subject to; how they stack up to scientific protocol and who is making themselves accountable for their consequences.

Instead, we are time and time again met with an overly-sincere government representative extolling the safety and effectiveness of our vaccine – in the broadest terms possible. The fact is, it’s far harder to engage the public with a real, semi-technical discussion of the development and scientific context of a new vaccine. 

That we have been placated by Boris and Co.’s hearty rhetoric is not only insulting to us as an electorate, but symptomatic of a leadership with little credible ambition outside of self-adulation. Can they really be surprised that people have stopped listening? 

Words by Asher Canessa

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