The vaccines are on their way. Our next task? Persuade people to take them – Evening Standard

Posted: November 24, 2020 at 7:55 am


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oronavirus is a battle against pathogens and spike proteins. But it is also a battle against misinformation and anxiety. Now that a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech could be approved next month, and a large trial of the Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine has shown it is effective, public trust is suddenly imperative. Foolish fictions or unnecessary anxiety about vaccination are no longer just odd theories touted by people ignorant of medicine. They could be much more dangerous than that.

There is a lot to be done before we can safely land back in the lives we once led. An approved vaccine will be a major logistical challenge for a government that hardly inspires confidence on that account. Storage will be needed for those vaccines that are only stable at minus 70C. Mass vaccination centres will have to be established rapidly, in sports halls and car parks, to match 10 million doses to the public. Even if capacity is built for 1.2 million doses to be administered a week, it will take five months to vaccinate everyone over the age of 65.

Yet the major problem might be rhetorical. Research by the Vaccine Confidence Project has that, in this country, only 52 per cent of people are confident that vaccines are safe. One study found only a third of British people would be willing to get a coronavirus vaccine. The same is true elsewhere. A Gallup poll found only 58 per cent of Americans willing to be vaccinated and only 54 per cent of the French are currently happy to take the jab. A sceptical public could yet prevent herd immunity through vaccination which looks like our best option to beat the virus. The Prime Ministers Covid communication has been erratic, veering between baseless optimism and apologetic gloom about lockdown. Flanked by his chosen scientific experts, Boris Johnson now faces a task of persuasion. He needs to take on each objection to the vaccine and calmly debunk them.

People will naturally worry that safety might have been compromised in the tearing hurry for a vaccine. In fact, the current researchers are standing on the shoulders of many who have gone before. The existing technologies are being adapted to Covid-19. Science does not start with a blank sheet of paper every time. The process of regulatory approval has, indeed, been speeded up, but that does not mean its hurdles have been lowered. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is emphatic that this is not the case. All vaccines approved will be closely monitored, as is the usual practice, and then reviewed in a years time.

Mr Johnson needs to show us that the chance of death or serious side-effects are undetectably small. The process has included the large trials, with 30,000 volunteers in the case of Pfizer and Moderna, in which side effects, which usually manifest quickly, would have shown up. The Prime Minister will also have to educate us in the prevalence of coincidence. During a mass vaccination programme some people will die of heart attacks and strokes on the same day. It will be easy for anyone looking for false associations to suppose that one event caused the other.

Along the way Mr Johnson will have to remind the public that there is no reputable evidence to link vaccination programmes with autism, no spooky links to 5G masts, and no evidence that children can be overloaded with vaccines and no evidence that vaccines help to transmit epilepsy, diabetes, or hepatitis. All that conspiracy theorists need these days is an internet connection and their lie can travel the world before the truth has got its boots on.

The anti-vaccine band have a recognisable strategy. In any range of scientific studies there are likely to be outliers, studies which stripped from context, appear to suggest that a vaccination is unsafe. Or, if no such experiment is available, they select refuted studies and appeal to the authority of pseudo-science. If they do not have even that to go on, they make it up.

Vaccination is, in fact, one of the greatest contributions to public health that has ever been devised by human ingenuity. The late Victorians introduced compulsory vaccination in Britain in the face of clever flapdoodle from high-profile fools such as George Bernard Shaw. The anguish averted is incalculable. Smallpox has been eradicated worldwide and polio and measles are close to extinction. We need to be calm about Covid. We can just about glimpse the road out of the woods. Lets take it.

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The vaccines are on their way. Our next task? Persuade people to take them - Evening Standard

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November 24th, 2020 at 7:55 am

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