A sizeable minority of people believe conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and Covid-19 vaccines, some experts have warned, just as countries prepare to launch mass inoculations to get the pandemic under control.
Britain begins its vaccine programme this week and others are likely to follow soon, so governments are seeking to reassure people of vaccines’ safety and efficacy in order to get a critical mass to take them.
In the US, President-elect Joe Biden said he would have a coronavirus vaccine publicly to demonstrate its safety, and referred to people losing faith in the vaccine’s ability to work.
“What we’re finding is, in the wake of the pandemic, that conspiracy beliefs may have gone mainstream, that they’re no longer confined to the fringes,” Daniel Freeman, professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, told Reuters.
“Around a quarter (of Britain’s population) are entertaining such thoughts. Another quarter are consistently thinking in terms of conspiracy beliefs, and around one in 10 people seem to have a very high rate of endorsement of conspiracy beliefs.”
The World Health Organization estimates a 65-70% vaccine coverage rate as necessary to reach population immunity through vaccination, though the idea of herd immunity assumes a vaccine prevents transmission, not just the disease itself.
A survey in Britain last month showed that almost two-thirds of people would get vaccinated for the disease. But many have expressed unease at the speed at which companies have developed the drugs to tackle it, and about possible side effects.
Based on published vaccines trial data generated so far this year by Moderna, the BioNTech-Pfizer partnership and AstraZeneca, side effects have not been serious or long lasting.
Some also believe unfounded claims spread over the Internet, including that the pandemic was fabricated by governments to control people or that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wanted to use vaccines to insert trackable microchips into people.
At a recent protest in central London, hundreds of people shouted slogans against Covid-19 lockdown measures and vaccinations.
One demonstrator, Michelle, called the pandemic a “hoax”. “It’s a cover-up while they reset the whole economy,” she shouted.