Time to dispel anti-vaxx movement’s myths with common sense – Andrew Vine

THERE are some conversations that render you speechless in disbelief at what’s just been said.

One happened to me when I bumped into a couple of neighbours whilst out walking, and we started chatting, soon being joined by others who were passing.

The talk turned to Covid-19 and the state the country is in, as every conversation now inevitably does, and somebody expressed the hope that the vaccinations would soon get us back to normal.

We all nodded in agreement. Except one woman I hadn’t talked to before, knowing her only by sight, who pursed her lips and snorted: “Nobody’s going to give me an injection.”

Nurse Pat Sugden prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds, the first UK museum to host a COVID-19 vaccination centre, as BioNTech boss Ugur Sahin says he is confident vaccine will work on UK variant.

I wasn’t alone in being left speechless in astonished disbelief as she went on to explain how the vaccination was a ruse to inject the entire population with a nano-technology microchip that would track everybody’s movements, and there was no way she was going to submit to it.

Somebody said: “You’re joking, aren’t you?” She wasn’t, and the rest of us shuffled our feet awkwardly and exchanged uneasy glances as the conversation stopped stone dead before we drifted apart whilst wishing each other a happy New Year.

The thing is, we all know this sort of crazy nonsense is out there, propagated online by conspiracy theorists and fantasists.

But you just don’t expect to meet it on a respectable suburban street in Yorkshire, where the sensible residents have dutifully complied with everything asked of them by the Government, kept an eye on elderly neighbours and clapped for carers.

This was Baroness Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker, having her Covid vaccine - and issuing a message of defiance.

It’s just too ordinary and too down-to-earth a setting for this sort of wild-eyed rubbish that most of us imagine is generated by crazed loners from their spare bedrooms in the backwaters of the United States who probably also believe the world is run by a secret cabal of giant alien lizards.

Yet here it was, being spouted by an apparently intelligent, normal person who, without a doubt, believed wholeheartedly in what she was saying. She went on her way with not a hint of embarrassment or awkwardness. She’d told us what she believes, and that was that.

And that’s what I found unsettling. We all did. Nobody in the group so much as cracked a smile, let alone laughed, because we were all so taken aback by the sheer conviction in her voice and eyes.

I mentioned what had happened to a friend, and it turns out he has a sister-in-law who is equally convinced that the vaccination programme is a fiendish plot to control the entire population.

Nurse Pat Sugden prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds, the first UK museum to host a COVID-19 vaccination centre.

He’s had an almighty row with her about talking this nonsense, which she does with evangelistic zeal, in front of his young children who might take notice of what their auntie is saying.

It’s a worrying thought that this suspicion of vaccination might be more widespread than many of us imagine.

Searching the internet for “anti-vaxxers” is to plunge into a twilight world of deranged claims, horror stories and pseudo-science, which would be laughable if it wasn’t so potentially harmful.

It isn’t only the extreme stuff about mind control and monitoring people’s movements that is disturbing. There is a whole other narrative, couched in plausible terms, that the Covid vaccines, developed in record time thanks to the herculean efforts of scientists working for the benefit of humankind, are unsafe.

Corners have been cut, it says. There will be horrible side-effects, it claims, including loss of fertility. A survey a couple of weeks ago even found that some NHS staff, who should know better, have doubts about the vaccine’s safety. And the gullible and credulous, unsettled by the turmoil of a global pandemic, are swallowing this guff.

They have to be persuaded against doing so, not only for their own sake, but for the safety of those around them, especially in the early stages of a vaccination programme that has so far reached only a small proportion of the population.

The older celebrities who have come forward to reassure their contemporaries that they have nothing to fear from the jab by having it themselves – among them the brilliant actor Sir Ian McKellen, Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker, and Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith – have done their generation a service.

And in America, President-elect Joe Biden being vaccinated on television was a blatant attempt to reassure the population in a land where the anti-vaxx movement is at its most shrill that the jab is safe.

But there’s much more to be done. Amid all the other problems that the Government is grappling with, a challenge lies ahead in ensuring those who insist that the jab is a threat instead of a life-saver are not able to convince others to share their misguided obsession.

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