Professor John Ashton, former director of public health, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine has expressed fears that the UK’s rush to approve the Covid-19 vaccines may have the unwanted side-effect of seemly legitimising scientific scepticism.

He argued that the apparent political capital of first place in the vaccine race might not outweigh the long-term negative consequences of vaccine scepticism on public health. The UK’s desire to be the first in Europe to get the jab into arms may be in the Government’s best interests politically especially after the multitude of negative stories about their handling of the pandemic. Still, this short-term propaganda may come to haunt public health policy.

Trust in vaccines can break down if the Government doesn’t get this right

In the paper, Prof Ashton theorised that the long history of superstition and anti-science has once again been brought to the foreground during this pandemic, as well as old objections against what was then defined in the 19th century as ‘unchristian’ which now may be defined as concerns over the infringement of personal liberties.

Although these old pervasive fears he writes have become ever more present in recent years, as there has been a slow rise in vaccine scepticism that has seeped into society through the incorrect association of autism with immunisation. Prof Ashton commented: "What is now of concern is whether those opposed to the new Covid-19 vaccines will be able to prevent the effective implementation of a vaccine programme that should enable us to emerge from the dark tunnel of nature’s latest throw of the dice."

He further pointed to the failed attempt in the Victorian era to enforce compulsory vaccinations in new-born children against smallpox, which actually reinforced and legitimised the anti-vaccination movement at the time, due to several severe and fatal side effects – and led to the abolition of compulsory vaccinations afterwards.

Prof Ashton summaries that: 'The Victorian experience reminds us that compulsory vaccination must surely be a last resort and that taking the public on a journey hand-in-hand with this wonder of modern science is so dependent on that trust, and on a government and medical establishment that leads with openness, transparency and candour’.