As phase two of the pandemic is here - successful trials are being announced, vaccines are starting to be approved by regulators, and are being put into action. But it is troubling for authorities worldwide that online misinformation and concerns over safety may damper voluntary uptake of any Covid-19 vaccine.
After the announcement of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, in mid-November, Kantar published results of a poll that they conducted, which found that the vast majority of British people are happy to be vaccinated (76%), and believe that a vaccine is the only way to get back to normality (75%).
On the other hand, compared to June there had been a decrease in the number of Briton who replied that they would definitely get vaccinated 50% to 43%. Although, in comparison to the US the UK is predominately more trusting of safety and the messaging of authorities: the safety of the vaccine (40% vs 57%); the Government (62% vs 68%); and national health authorities (50% to 62%).
Concerningly for authorities the polling suggests that worldwide Covid-19-vaccine scepticism is an increasing phenomenon and is linked to the second phase of controlling the virus. As those who reported that they definitely would get a Covid-19 vaccine is down globally from June: the US is down from 47% to 30%, France 29% to 21%, Germany 29% to 35%, and Italy 43% to 38%.
Interestingly this scepticism is linked to whether the public trusts their government, the media, or health authorities, even though the UK doesn't trust the Governments response but ranked highest in public confidence in a vaccine; as well as being related to concerns over the speed of vaccine development and consequentially to the perceived safety of vaccines overall.
No corners were cut in the approval of the Pfizer vaccine
On Wednesday in a press conference Dr June Raine, head of the MHRA, reassured the public that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and that no corners had been cut in the swift approval of the vaccine saying that: "This recommendation has only been given by the MHRA following the most rigorous scientific assessment of every piece of data so that it meets the required strict standards of safety, of effectiveness and of quality."
Similarly, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said in response to the approval of the Pfizer vaccine that: "Vaccines only work if people have them, so we would encourage anyone who is invited for a vaccine to have one. Now that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved by the MHRA, patients should be assured that it is safe."
But what happens if the public cannot be 100% reassuring that any vaccine is safe? The answer to that questions leads to the puzzle of how to incentive vaccination whilst not making it mandatory. Which also has been recently discussed by UK Government Ministers this week.
Newly appointed Under-Secretary of State for COVID Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi, floated the idea of an immunity passport, that would allow people to enter places such as cinemas and pubs if they had been vaccinated. Telling the BBC that: "I think that in many ways, the pressure will come from both ways, from service providers who'll say, 'Look, demonstrate to us that you have been vaccinated'."
But this suggestion was rebuffed by Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove who told the BBC: "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, that's not the plan." Although adding that businesses would "of course" have the "capacity to make decisions about who they will admit and why".
So, there are no easy answers and only time will tell if governmental messaging has reassured the public that the vaccine is safe, and consequentially that uptake is enough to achieve herd immunity for those who cannot be vaccinated.