Anti-vaxx sentiment declining as fears of overwhelming NHS sway public opinion

Anti-vaxx sentiment is declining, Government data shows, as celebrity endorsement of Covid-19 vaccines and fears of overwhelming the NHS sway public opinion. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its weekly survey covering the social impacts of coronavirus on people in Great Britain on Friday. 

The data, covering the period from December 22 to January 3, found that there has been an increase in those likely or highly likely to have a vaccine, with 85 per cent of people reporting so, compared to 78 per cent over the period 10 to 13 December 2020. (Below: an anti-vaccination protest in London in September)

Responding to the data, Professor Jim McManus, vice president of the Association of Directors of Public Health said that there are multiple reasons – including celebrity endorsement and rising hospital admissions – as to why anti-vaxx sentiment is declining among the UK population. 

“The public worry surrounding Covid-19, especially the increasing hospital admissions, has actually started to impact people’s views – that’s what the social research is saying. 

“Many more people are taking it much more seriously. The herd immunity theorists have been proven to be wrong and people are realising that most of the anti-vaxx stuff going on has been around before with previous vaccines and isn’t based on science.

“Furthermore, when people are seeing more and more people get the vaccine that they can identify with who are in the ‘vulnerable’ category – especially celebrities – it will have had an impact.”

High-profile figures such as the chef and television presenter, Prue Leith CBE, 80, and the actor, Sir Ian McKellen, 81, have posted pictures of themselves receiving the vaccine on social media in a bid to encourage others to follow suit. 

Following the first coronavirus vaccine being given in the UK on December 8, Covid-19 vaccination is now being provided in hospitals and GP surgeries to those most at risk. 

Regarding attitudes to vaccines and mass testing, the ONS found that there has been a gradual increase in the percentage of adults that reported they would be either very likely or fairly likely to have the Covid-19 vaccine if offered. 

Over Christmas and New Year more than eight in 10 (85 per cent) adults reported they would be either very likely or fairly likely to have the vaccine; a slight increase from the week before (82 per cent over the period 16 to 20 December 2020), and an increase from 78 per cent over the period 10 to 13 December 2020.

Over Christmas and New Year, a further seven per cent of adults reported that they are very or fairly unlikely to have it, if offered. 

Among those, the most commonly reported reasons why not were: feeling worried about the side effects (51 per cent), feeling worried about the long-term effects on their health (51 per cent), and wanting to wait to see how well the vaccine works (47 per cent). 

These are similar reasons reported compared with the previous two data collection periods, covering 10 to 13 December and 16 to 20 December.

The ONS also found that compliance with most measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus remained high, with 90 per cent reporting always or often handwashing after returning home, 97 per cent using a face covering, and 89 per cent avoiding physical contact when outside their home.

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