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How to combat any anti-vaxxers in your close circle
Markus Spiske – Unsplash

How to talk to family and friends who are sceptical about the vaccine

Anti-vax sentiment is rising, and as the Pzifer vaccine for COVID-19 begins rolling out in the UK, we have to be patient and informed when talking with those closest to us who might be anxious or sceptical

It’s been a long, hard year of lockdowns, social distancing, and confusing tiered systems, but with three effective coronavirus vaccines having been produced, and one having been approved for use in the UK, an end is finally in sight. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has already been given to some of the most vulnerable people in the country, and was rolled out on Monday across hundreds of local vaccination centres run by GPs. More than 130,000 people are estimated to have been vaccinated this week alone. 

The UK’s vaccination chief, Minister Nadhim Zahawi, today welcomed a “really good start” to the programme, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: “This is just the start and we will steadily expand our vaccination programme – ultimately helping everyone get back to normal life.”

But there are concerns about the public’s willingness to sign up for the jab, despite Mr Hancock’s suggestion he receive it live on air to reassure those who doubt its safety. Just 53 per cent of the country said they would take the vaccine, according to a recent study by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, while it is estimated that around 70 per cent would need to be vaccinated to end the pandemic.

Misinformation is steadily gathering pace online too. Another Ipsos MORI survey recently found that one in three people in the UK are exposed to anti-vax messages, with belief in the theories they espouse especially high among younger people, and those who get a lot of their coronavirus information from social media. With this in mind, it’s important to communicate to those around you that taking the vaccine is the best protection against the coronavirus. Here’s some advice on dealing with any sceptics in your circle of close friends and family.

HEAR THEM OUT

Given the stress and confusion of this past year, and the government’s unwavering commitment to repeatedly make the wrong decisions at the wrong time, it’s not hard to see why some people may be slightly apprehensive about being told by Boris Johnson and his cronies what to put in their body. With this in mind, it’s important that you afford your sceptical friend or relative the space and time to air their grievances. If you dismiss them out of hand, they’re likely to dig deeper and become further entrenched in misinformation. A common worry is that the pace with which the vaccine was created, tested, and administered was too great to allow for rigorous safeguarding. However, it’s important to remember that this was a global collaboration on a scale never seen before, with governments around the world pooling billions of dollars into research, clinical trials, and data sharing. 

There’s also the fact that researchers were not starting from scratch. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a member of the coronavirus family, of which there are hundreds of members. Dr Eric J Yager, an associate professor of microbiology at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in New York, says that it was efforts by scientists at the University of Oxford to provide a vaccine for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that provided “the necessary experimental experience and groundwork to develop an adenovirus vaccine for COVID-19.”

PROVIDE EVIDENCE

Fantastical and alluring as it is, the soaring rhetoric of David Icke – former professional footballer and prominent COVID conspiracy theorist – is rarely backed-up with any factual evidence. He is of the school of thought, as are other anti-vaxxers, that vaccines in development in Europe and the US are intended to “enslave the masses”. If anyone mentions Icke to you, be sure to tell them that he also believes an inter-dimensional race of reptilian beings control planet Earth, and that they manipulate world events to remain in control. 

It might also be useful to point to official information on the NHS website, which relays in no uncertain terms that the Pfizer/BioNTech jab meets the “strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).” It adds that: “So far, thousands of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.”

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

The best way to show others of your confidence in the vaccine is, of course, to receive it yourself. While most of the people vaccinated so far are the eldery and clinically vulnerable, it will soon be made more widely available. The government hopes to have about 200 local vaccination clinics up and running by the end of this week, with another 1000 expected to follow in the weeks after. Frustratingly, you can’t yet register for a vaccine – current advice is that you wait to be contacted by the NHS or your doctor – but in taking it as soon as possible, you’re setting a good example and showing friends and family that you value their good health as much as your own. 

Find the most up-to date information about the coronavirus vaccine in the UK here.