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Anti-Vaxxers and Anti-Maskers in the UK - growing in voice?

Anti-Vaxxers and Anti-Maskers in the UK - growing in voice?

Over 46,000 people have died in the UK after testing positive for COVID-19 and many thousands more have battled against the virus pandemic which has been affecting almost the whole world.

Some praise government responses to the pandemic, claiming officials have done the best they could in an incredibly difficult situation. Others have claimed that governments, including the UK Government, acted too slowly in imposing lockdown measures and have since lifted them too quickly - but these people generally support safety measures that have been implemented. 

This split in opinion is not especially surprising. However, there is another group of people who don't support measures by governments to try and save more lives and protect the public from COVID-19. For some, the number of people in that group may be somewhat surprising.

 

Most, though not all experts agree that implementing the lockdown in the UK helped to save lives. In fact, multiple scientists have said that lockdown measures should have been put into force sooner, claiming that it could have saved thousands of lives.

As lockdown measures are lifted and we return to life slightly closer to 'normality', different restrictions have been put into place - for example, the requirement to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport, plus the requirement for us to sometimes share our contact details to help support the government's 'Test & Trace' system. While all of this is going on and we are trying to adapt to a world where COVID-19 still very much exists, scientists and medical experts are working hard behind the scenes to search for a vaccine. We've been told that an effective vaccine may never be found and if it is, it could take years to be signed off and given to the general public - though early trials for one Oxford vaccine have produced some positive signs. 

Compliance with Coronavirus restrictions has been a hot topic in the news of late. While some people do all they can to keep themselves and others safe, some people are more relaxed, thinking that getting hit badly by COVID-19 'won't happen to them'.

Some Coronavirus restrictions are harder to comply with than others - for instance, wearing a mask is uncomfortable for many and difficult for some people with medical conditions, however, many comply - either because its the law, they want to help protect others from the invisible virus, or both. There has though been a noticeable rise in people going against restrictions, and even campaigning against them.

You might have heard about the anti-vaccine movement. This movement has been going for some time, though with COVID-19 in the world, it has increased in prevalence. And now it is not just 'anti-vaccine' movements we are seeing, but also 'anti-masks', 'anti-lockdown' and 'anti-testing' demonstrations.

This demonstration in Norwich City Centre on Saturday saw at least half a dozen people attempting to engage passers-by and campaigning with boards reading 'No Masks' and another reading '#SaveOurRights'. Other similar demonstrations by the 'Save our Rights UK' page on Facebook took place in a range of UK cities, including Brighton, London and Liverpool.

The demonstrations are perhaps not new, but instead, seem to be growing in voice. While not seen on the same scale in the UK, the United States has seen significant anti-mask protests in recent days and weeks, with some protestors claiming that masks don't work, are bad for health and are a violation of their personal freedoms. Similar claims are made about vaccines by anti-vaccine movements, members of which often refuse to take vaccines for religious or political reasons or because they consider them to not work.

Before vaccines are approved for public use, they have to go through rigorous testing and trials to check they are safe and effective. Usually, this is a process which takes many years and vaccines that have been produced in the past have been attributed to helping control and eradicate diseases - such as smallpox.

Both experts and politicians have hinted that social distancing measures might have to remain until a vaccine is found (if it can be found). Yet, it would appear that as the search for a vaccine continues, there is a significant and maybe even growing anti-vaccine sentiment - and closer to home than some may think.

New data from an Ipsos MORI poll published on Sunday revealed that only 53% of people surveyed said they'd be certain or very likely to get a vaccine against Coronavirus, if available, while 1 in 6 people said they are unlikely to or definitely won't get a vaccine if one is made available.

The research conducted with Kings College London found that those who say they are unlikely or definitely won't get a vaccine were also more likely to be sceptical about face masks or just not wear them.

Talking about the poll, Professor Bobby Duffy from King’s College London said;

“Misperceptions about vaccines are among our most directly damaging beliefs, and they’re clearly influencing people’s intentions during the coronavirus crisis. While one in six in the UK say they are unlikely to or definitely won’t get a potential vaccine against Covid-19, this rises to around a third or more among certain groups, with a clear link to belief in conspiracy theories and mistrust of government, authority and science.

“Vaccines are one of our greatest achievements, and there is a great deal of faith that we’ll eventually develop one for Covid-19 – but more still need to be convinced of how important it could be for ending this crisis.”

As officials work hard to try and find out the best ways to protect the public from the Coronavirus pandemic, it would appear politicians need to work just as hard to convince some groups of the public to trust their messages and follow restrictions. 

With a potential second spike of virus cases feared to be on the horizon, new and localised restrictions have been coming into effect around the UK, though some members of the public have complained about a lack of enforcement and generally poor communication. 'It won't happen to me' attitudes also definitely exist, making communication about COVID-19 even more important.

While the scientific evidence over the use of face masks and coverings is still somewhat debated, many now believe that they can help to protect others from the Coronavirus - just as evidence shows vaccines can help to bring immunity from diseases. Data has though shown that there are significant groups of the population that believe otherwise despite the wealth of evidence and recent demonstrations have shown that some of these groups want to spread their opinions further.  

A Government spokesperson said;

“The science is clear – vaccines save lives, which is why we are leading a global effort to find a Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccine misinformation in any form is completely unacceptable and it is everyone’s responsibility to seek NHS advice, so that they have the right information to make the right choice.

“There is evidence to suggest that, when used correctly, face coverings may reduce the likelihood of someone with the infection passing it on to others, particularly if they are asymptomatic. We are asking the public to play their part and wear face coverings in order to help fight the spread of the virus, enabling further easing of national restrictions.”

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