The danger of anti-vaccine propaganda

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I recently had Covid-19 myself and although it was not a serious case compared to many others, it knocked me for six and I was unable to do anything for several weeks. The first symptom I noticed was losing my sense of smell. Over the following 48 hours, I became very unwell. I suffered from severe headaches, which made me feel nauseous and every time I stood up, I had terrible vertigo. I could barely walk, so all I could do was to take painkillers, drink hot water with ginger, honey and lemon, and stay in bed. I requested an NHS home-test kit, which arrived within 48 hours and the results arrived within another 48 hours. An amazing NHS 111 staff member rang me 3 times on the fifth day of my illness to check on me as I had become so poorly and she was concerned.

Thankfully, by the 7th day I began to feel a little better. Even though I am no longer in quarantine, I am still suffering from the after-effects. I’m easing myself back into work as I still get tired and my sense of taste and smell have not returned fully. I have spoken to many people who say that the long-term effects of having COVDI-19 can be debilitating.

My experience, and that of many other people have reinforced my belief that it is absolutely crucial for everyone to have the vaccine as soon as it is offered to them. The medical professionals do not gain anything by endorsing the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines; they do it for our wellbeing and for the benefit of the country as a whole. The COVID-19 conspiracy theories are not initiated by medical professionals. For whatever reason, these myths are often invented by people with hidden agendas, or those who simply enjoy creating controversy. Some of these myths gain traction through social media, preying on the gullibility of some and others’ mistrust of government and the media.  These myths are far more dangerous than not having the vaccine.

In order to protect our communities and the economy, it is the responsibility of every individual in the borough take up the vaccine. Only by adhering to this collective responsibility can we hope to tackle this problem effectively.

Recent research conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health has shown that people on lower incomes appear to be less confident about a vaccine, with a wealth gap in take-up.  84% of high earners are planning to get vaccinated, compared with 70% of low earners. Ethnicity also appears to influence take up. 57% of Black, Asian and Minority Ethic people said they would take the vaccine compared with 79% of white people. The highest region for rejections was in London (14%). Several different surveys have also revealed that women are less likely to take the vaccine than men.

The reality is that the anti-vaccine rhetoric posted on social media from claims that it could alter a person’s DNA, that microchips could be injected (simply because Bill Gates funds vaccine research), and that COVID either doesn’t exist or is not an issue.  This type of misinformation has had a huge impact on communities.  People naturally feel afraid of the unknown and as this vaccine is new, and the conspiracy theorists exploit this fear, not just in the UK but other countries.

This is not a new phenomenon.  In the 19th century, the UK saw a rise of anti-vaccine campaigners when the smallpox immunisation programme was introduced, but because of the vaccine, smallpox was eventually eradicated.  For decades, vaccination programmes have become vital for preventing and eradicating deadly and crippling illnesses such as polio, diphtheria, cholera, typhoid and malaria.  My mother reminded me of the cholera pandemic that claimed the lives of thousands in Bangladesh in the late 60s. Even the standard MMR vaccine administered to children has prevented unnecessary suffering and potential life-changing complications, or even death.

I recently wrote to the Corporate Director for Health, Adults and Community for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, stressing the importance of  rolling out a local COVID vaccine campaign in order to address the misinformation and conspiracy theories. This should be a combined effort between all councillors, stakeholders and faith leaders to counter the many myths that are circulating, particularly across social media.

In October 2020, YouTube announced that it would remove videos containing COVID-19 vaccine information, which should be a responsibility of all social media platforms. As individuals, councillors and community leaders, we all have a duty to report misinformation and work together to debunk the anti-vaccine myths and encourage the take up of something that will change our lives for the better. After all, it is only by vaccinating a critical mass of people that we can hope to eliminate this virus.

* Rabina Khan is a councillor in Tower Hamlets and Special Advisor to Lib Dem peers. Her book, book My Hair is Pink Under This Veil (BiteBack Publishers) is due out in March 2021.

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32 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jan '21 - 1:03pm

    Very glad you have started to recover well. Rabina this is an important piece thanks. You do good work and are impressive.

    I think while everything you say is correct, there is an elephant in the room nobody in party politics is referencing in articles. Perhaps as a diligent very well regarded councillor you can agree and take it up.

    It is concern over the decision by this govt to only give one dose getting a second months after. Doctors rightly are both concerned and against it.

    Science is not one thing. Scientists disagree with other science or related, experts.

    No other country is taking this approach. similarly the oxford vaccine is not as potent or reliable with immunity as the Pfizer biontec/ moderna, two.

    There needs to be a loud debate.

  • Lorenzo, probably the right decision IMO, though as you say experts disagree.

    But experts who recommend going against protocol will be pilloried if it doesn’t work and those who recommend sticking to protocol have their arses covered even if it leads to more deaths, which it probably would. So this is not something that will be done lightly.

    I’m not sure nitpicking over the particular vaccine or the dosing schedule is relevant to the issue of vaccine reluctance, expect that you risk spreading FUD.

  • I’m pleased to hear you are on the mend Rabina, but please remember to give yourself plenty of rest.

    It’s an important subject, and while I’m still just about young enough that I an confident I would survive COVID, the fear of long-COVID is much more real to me. I’m pretty pro-vaccine already, but the reminder that an infection could mean more than a few days in bed provides additional motivation.

    The good news is that recent polling shows that a firm willingness to get the vaccine in the UK has gone up by about 20% since November to 81% of the general population. However, as you explain so well, attitudes very between sections of society, and it is important to find the best ways of encouraging full uptake.

    I half agree Lorenzo that some of the discussion about dosing regimes makes some people nervous, however, it is incorrect to say that ‘doctors are against it’, as it was doctors and vaccine specialists on the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (independent of the government) who suggested it in the first place. Many other doctors continue to advocate for it, including some not in the UK. We must be careful not to personally damage faith in this vaccine and vaccines in general by repeating scare stories, or giving undue weight to contrary views, just because we think this government are a bunch of idiots.

    Inevitably, many medical professionals would like their own 2nd dose/booster ASAP, and would want the same for their own patients, but if that were to happen, they’d be delaying the first dose for another person not known to them. Then again, vaccine experts say that you usually get better eventual immunity from longer delays before the booster, so it’s not even that clear cut.

  • Little Jackie Paper 22nd Jan '21 - 2:38pm

    Turn off social media and the noise stops. It is that simple.

    Social media has a great deal to answer for.

  • Little Jackie Paper 22nd Jan '21 - 2:41pm

    Lorenzo

    In and of itself I’m not too bothered about the gap *in a situation where supply is very limited.*

    The issue is making sure that temporary does mean temporary.

  • John Marriott 22nd Jan '21 - 3:29pm

    My wife and I have been taking a supplementary Vitamin D pill now for a couple of years because research has shown that it can boost the immune system. I gather that could be one of the reasons why people with dark skins often have compromised immune systems because they cannot absorb as much Vitamin D naturally through sunlight as people with fairer skins. Sunlight over here is certainly less intense, especially in the winter.

    You may wonder whether our taking Vitamin D has made any difference. Well, except for a dose last September, touch wood, we’ve been free from colds, whereas before most winters saw us for ever coughing and sneezing, especially with our having young grandchildren bringing such ailments home from school. Does that mean we won’t be having the vaccine, when the offer finally comes? Of course we will!

  • Laurence Cox 22nd Jan '21 - 3:47pm

    It is unfortunate when normally responsible posters like Lorenzo start to spread concerns about the decision to delay the second vaccination dose, so that a larger proportion of the population can receive their first dose.

    Tom Chivers, who is an experienced science journalist, has written on this:

    https://unherd.com/2021/01/amid-covid-crisis-we-cant-wait-for-perfect-data/

    (I don’t usually recommend articles in Unherd, but Tom Chivers is a notable exception)

    What we have to understand is that in the absence of RCTs, doctors are not blindly groping in the dark, they rely on previous experience with other vaccines; just because a vaccine trial used a 28-day interval between doses doesn’t mean that any other interval makes it ineffective.

    If the same philosophy had been applied last Spring, we would all have been wearing face masks as soon as the first lockdown took place; sometimes it is better to apply the precautionary principle when data is lacking – you just have to look at the number of people in the Far East who have worn face masks in public for years.

  • Barry Lofty 22nd Jan '21 - 3:49pm

    My wife and I have today received appointments for our covid vaccinations for the 31st Jan followed by the second dose on 25th April, quite a long time lapse but glad to be able to receive them! I can sympathise with Rabina as two of my granddaughters contracted the virus, one recovered quite quickly while the other has been really ill and as she told us yesterday, still feeling extremely fatigued. I am grateful to be getting the two doses.

  • @ John Marriott Keep on taking the tablets, John. FYI I’m required to take Vitamin D twice daily in the medication regime post-transplant at the wonderful Edinburgh Royal Infirmary ten years ago.

    Especially applicable for those shielding and unable to go out. Makes up for lack of sunshine and helps the immune system.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jan '21 - 4:58pm

    Very sorry, but I called out here for a debate, I did not say I am against it, but some doctors are, and I said this here!

    The UK Doctors association this week said clearly in their view this “is going against the science!”

    This is the ONLY nation doing this so far. The Israeli and American experience and advice is we ought not! Not until sure. And Pfizer say it very much indeed.

    Being in favour of evidence means gathering it. One view cannot prevail until certain we have got the evidence.

    It is very related to this article, more shall be in my view reluctant to take it if this country is a guinea pig for the parsimoniuos govt and herd immunity and risk happy clique around the pm!

  • Barry Lofty 22nd Jan '21 - 5:16pm

    Lorenzo you are correct in saying that there has been some doubt cast over the longer time lapse between the doses as I read somewhere that Pfizer themselves were somewhat ambivalent on the subject, but speaking for ourselves my wife and I are grateful to be receiving, at least, some protection and maybe a step nearer meeting up with our children and grandchildren again

  • On Vitamin D – anyone who is shielding has been offered 4 months supply of the vitamin by the Government. As it happens I was diagnosed with Vit D deficiency some years ago so have been taking it every day since then. It certainly made a difference.

  • Online media has to take more responsibility for their comments section.

    I know not many readers here would even go the Sun website let alone read the comments, but I am appalled at what is allowed to go on there.

    The site is flooded with anti-vaxers and conspiracy theorists who post the most outrageous claims and are allowed to go unmoderated, and yet if you post a comment critical of the sun or the author and you are immediately deleted.
    It is the same posters Day after Day, posting the same rubbish and getting away with it.

    I would go as far to say that the Sun editorial team appear to welcome these posts judging by the lack of moderation.

    It is dangerous and irresponsible.

    Facebook is just as bad with some of the content it is allowing, but at least because most of the profiles are more public, you have more of a chance of engaging and trying to “educate” the person posting their nonsense and you are able to post links and educational material that disproves their dangerous conspiracies. You are not able to do that on media websites like the sun and the mail

  • Little Jackie Paper 22nd Jan '21 - 9:01pm

    Matt

    But that is what online talkboards, social media et al are about. Do you think that these things are there to make the world a better place? To bring about honest, quality thought?

    We, the public, did this. We lapped it up, fought our culture war, created our bots and got into our echo chambers. Big tech just pushed an open door.

    Anti vaccine is a symptom, not a cause. We brought this on ourselves – not a comfortable thought.

  • Sorry to read about your illness Rabina.

    I completely agree about the need for vigorous promotion of vaccination, and for taking down anti-vaccine misinformation and disinformation.

    My wife and I are due to be vaccinated tmorrow morning, and will publicise that as much as we can afterwards in case it influences anyone else.

  • @Little Jackie Paper

    Scary thought isn’t it.

    Maybe we need more legislation for online media print and social media?

    What gets me the most about the sun, they were claiming the holier than thou with their sun campaign “Jabs Army”
    Actually disabled comments on all articles in relation to that
    and yet allow all these anti-vax, Covid Hoax, conspiracy theorists to troll any other article in relation to covid with their false and dangerous comments under the banner of free speech.
    Whenever I posted the hypocrisy of this on there articles I would get deleted time and time again and yet these covid deniers would be allowed to continue spreading their disinformation and dangerous nonsense.

    I am so annoyed at the irresponsibility of large portions of media for what they have allowed to go on, on their forums during this pandemic and some of their articles and opinion pieces which almost seems to incite this stuff.
    Although obviously not as severe as what we recently saw in the states with the Maga movement and Qnon, I worry that if this nonsense is not squashed, how far it can escalate. I am seeing more and more comments on these sites calling for civil disobedience and even riots. And you only have to look at “trumpets” to see how easily some people can be influenced with misinformation

  • Laurence Cox 22nd Jan '21 - 10:38pm

    @Lorenzo Cherin

    Since you haven’t bothered to read the reference I cited, here is what Tom Chivers says:

    “Similarly, there’s been a bit of a hoo-hah about another British plan to delay the booster jab for up to 12 weeks, so that we can get as many people the first dose (and some level of protection) as possible. Again, there are no specific RCTs looking into that – Pfizer only tested its booster three weeks after the prime, although the Oxford study did look at various different regimens including up to 12-week gaps. But again, we don’t have the luxury of demanding certainty and perfect evidence. The question is: do we think that a longer gap will work reasonably well, and if so, do we think the benefits of giving many more people their first dose outweigh the possible costs in efficacy? The MHRA obviously thinks so, and my own suspicion is that it’s pretty clear-cut. “We haven’t got the data” is partially true, but, again, it doesn’t mean we know nothing.”

    Citing the “UK Doctors’ Association” as your justification without even a link to their statement, does not constitute evidence for overturning the MHRA decision.

    I’m now getting my jab tomorrow afternoon and I don’t mind waiting 12 weeks for the booster if it means that someone else vulnerable gets their first jab sooner.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jan '21 - 11:22pm

    Laurence Cox

    Very unsure as why you presume i did my best to avoid your link, when I did no such thing! You presume you know a lot about my approach but seem to not be able to read my concern as that, instead to misread it and misrepresent it, as some sort of condemnation, or almost anti vaccination scare!

    I am entitled to quote a reputable body without a link to the several article references this week to their concern.

    I am as concerned as before about being part of the experiment, well meaning, unlike every other country so far who each read the instructions on the bottle!

    I thought a site like this is for debate, I forgot how few actually like this approach rather than the sound of their own view point.

    I merely express concerns and am unconvinced I am daft to!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jan '21 - 12:32am

    As for the link, it is a very considered piece. But it is designed to support the writer’s viewpoint, as I mention, he almost seems to push the view , he was wrong previously, he must not be again.

    I think we need a debate amongst science and related practitioners, not merely those who write about this. I think we need those in politics to expect more from govt than a few scientists who are convinced, rather than they be, convince us!

    I need to feel on this, unlike on everytrhing else where they were slow, they the gov are not quick , in order to be able to be first at this rather than correct in this.

  • From my point of view before we worry about people refusing to be vaccinated we should make sure that people can in fact get the vaccine. As I say this is from my point of view so I have been offered the vaccine. Great I thought, and went on the web site. Lots of options were available. The most convenient for me would be over one and a half hours by public transport there, the same back and then a time at the centre being dealt with.
    This would be no problem for me as the transport would be free with my pass, I have been strongly advised not to use public transport, and in this weather I would be tired, and no nice café to pop in to warm up.
    So what if I was not able to do this journey? If I were younger I would have to pay for transport need time off work, or might have care responsibilities,
    I am not making any criticism of those working hard to make this work.
    I am however saying that we have a responsibility as a community to make sure that our first action should be to make sure that those people are actually going to get the help they need to get to a vaccination centre. And just to add there are plenty of places nearertoe giving vaccinations And I know people who have had two doses. But please let us look at the world from the point of view of those we are talking about.

  • Laurence Cox 23rd Jan '21 - 12:46pm

    Lorenzo,

    Let me go back to your very first posting:

    “There needs to be a loud debate.”

    Absolutely not. Loud debates solve nothing. What we need is information, specifically the information that the MHRA made their decision on that the doses could be spaced 12 weeks apart on. We know that the AstraZeneca vaccine was given at a number of different intervals up to 12 weeks, so the MHRA know what that did to its efficacy. We don’t have any information on the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine other than at the three week interval.

    “Being in favour of evidence means gathering it. One view cannot prevail until certain we have got the evidence.”

    Evidence of efficacy can take a long time to gather (months to a year). In the meantime for every person you give two jabs to, you are denying another person any protection.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-55730549

    Look at the graph of covid vaccinations; to hit the 15million target of first jabs by 15th February, we have to vaccinate 385,000 people a day. If you say (as the BMA does) that everyone should get their second jabs within six weeks at the same rate you will take up 39 out of the next 42 days. So you will only have 3 days available to start vaccinating new people. Our seven-day average is only 281,000 so we are still behind the curve.

    Putting it simply – reducing the interval from 12 weeks to six means that (even if the vaccinations reach the higher rate) 15 million people in the next most vulnerable categories will not have any protection against covid before the end of March. In this country we are already conducting the biggest vaccination campaign in our history; there is no assurance that we can push it to even 500,000 jabs a day or that we can maintain the current level for month after month.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jan '21 - 5:53pm

    Laurence

    You make a good job of refuting your own view, that we do not need a debate, for you are engaging in one, and make the points you make with vigour, and open up the possibilities that we are safe with this policy with reference to vaccination!

    I am unconvinced, but glad to read your views and enter this debate!

    Liberal Democrats, Democratic Socialists, Social Democrats, really must debate, democracy is that or nothing!

  • Laurence Cox 23rd Jan '21 - 8:37pm

    Lorenzo,

    Nothing I have said refutes my own view. You are the one who wanted a loud debate.

    I have found some information from the JCVI

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prioritising-the-first-covid-19-vaccine-dose-jcvi-statement/optimising-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme-for-maximum-short-term-impact

    What I do not understand is why WHO and the doctors are saying that a 12 week interval is no good for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, but 6 weeks is OK, when the only trials data is for a 3 week gap. I would have thought that you with your emphasis on evidence would appreciate this.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jan '21 - 11:02pm

    Laurence

    I appreciate it and you missed but trust might appreciate I meant you refute your argument, inadvertently you did not want a debate, in having one, have entered in to a good level of dialogue, which i feel we gain from in this scenario.

  • Helen Dudden 24th Jan '21 - 4:35am

    It’s up to is all, if we take any medication. I won’t be taking the vaccine.
    My choice.

  • Laurence Cox 24th Jan '21 - 11:47am

    Lorenzo,

    As we have now entered a dialogue, you will remember my previous posting about the illogicality of a six-week gap between doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This morning, the Israeli Minister of Health was interviewed by Andrew Marr and confirmed that they were giving the two doses with a 21-day interval, as in the trial.

    Now it is reasonable to argue that the only data that really matters is RCTs and therefore vaccinations should only be given under the same protocol; or that the evidence from the AstraZeneca vaccine showed that efficacy was similar over a range of intervals between doses and we would expect the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to behave similarly (because both cause our cells to make the spike protein). The option where there is no evidence is a six-week interval which makes it strange why the BMA are recommending it.

    One reason why trials use relatively closely-spaced doses is to minimise drop-out amongst trial participants.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Jan '21 - 1:05pm

    Laurence you make a case for more debate…

  • Helen Dudden 24th Jan '21 - 1:14pm

    I agree, there should be more debate on more of the issue’s at present.
    That’s the problem, problems are actually being produced, which will affect us all for years to come.
    That’s the main issue, not enough transparency!

  • My concern is that the manufacturer’s recommendation is being sidelined in the rush for numbers..
    As I understand it a) Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was trialled with a 3 week delay in second dose b) WHO accepted that ‘in special circumstances’ 6 weeks was acceptable c) the UK is using a 12 week interval..
    THe BMA are concerned that the long delay may negate the effectiveness of the first dose and, as a responsible independent body, such concern should not be dismissed lightly..
    There is a world of difference between such reservations and ‘Qnon and antivax conspiritors’; linking the two is just plain wrong. If, like everything else this government has done in tackling the spread of Covid, their ‘unique’ 12 week delay results in another wave of infections then refusing to acknowledge the reservations of responsible voices will have an adverse affect on future ‘roll-outs’..

    BTW..I will, when contacted in my forgotten corner of Suffolk, gratefully accept the vaccine..

  • @expats

    I actually support the British Government in a 12 week delay and I don’t support them on much over covid!

    It did come from the medics – the chief medical officers and the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation I appreciate the Israeli study that says it was only 33% effective after one dose but this was apparently a small study. And there are two other factors – and I haven’t dug up the facts on this so I may be wrong on this. But the first is the mortality rate – if it plunges the mortality rate down towards zero – then even if people get it – if they get much more mildly that is a big win and you want that and that’s a big win and you want that in as many people as possible.

    Secondly quite a big transmission is care workers and health workers into hospitals and care homes and if they are spreading it less then that is also quite a big win.

    Obviously there were no definitive right answers as it depends on how effective versus how many and you need only slightly more than half as effective for it to be giving it to twice as many and Van Tam was talking I believe of one dose delivering 90% of the effectiveness of two doses – this may turn out to be overstating the case but my gut feeling is that actually it was the right decision. And as I say mortality is actually the key stat.

    But we will see how it turns out.

  • Laurence Cox 26th Jan '21 - 11:26am

    @expats

    In support of Michael1’s comments, here is an article by the chair of the British Society for Immunology’s Covid-19 and Immunology taskforce:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/26/second-covid-dose-uk-jabs

    PS I hope you get your first jab soon; my sister-in-law who is not 70 until April and lives in South-West Suffolk got hers yesterday (I had mine in London on Saturday). I think that the NHS are just concentrating on getting as many people as possible in the high-risk groups immunised.

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