Has the influence of anti-vaxxers been hugely overstated? That is one interpretation of the Office for National Statistics’ latest survey on social attitudes towards Covid-19 and the government’s efforts to tackle it.
While fears abound that people might refuse the vaccine, with their minds turned by lies disseminated on social media about Bill Gates wanting to impregnate them with microchips, there is scant sign that the British public is becoming anti-vax. Across all adult age groups, 78 per cent say they are ‘fairly likely’ or ‘very likely’ to take the vaccine if offered it (and it is government policy that all will be offered it in time).
More importantly, perhaps, that rises to 95 per cent among the over-70s, the age group most likely to come to harm from the disease. It drops to 63 per cent among 16- to 29-year-olds, but there is scant sign that the refuseniks have been influenced by conspiracy theories.
Only 7 per cent of those who say they won’t be taking the vaccine said it was because they are against vaccines in general. Most – 52 per cent – said they were worried about the side effects. Pfizer reports that 3.7 per cent of people given the vaccine developed ‘severe’ fatigue and 2.0 per cent a severe headache after the second dose. The government’s main challenge lies not in tackling anti-vaxxer propaganda but in convincing young people to overlook their personal interest and to be vaccinated for the public good. Even so, the proportion of people saying they will take the vaccine is high enough to suggest that it could achieve herd immunity – which according to the Chief Medical Officer at the beginning of this crisis, would require 60 per cent of people to acquire personal immunity through infection or vaccination.
The ONS social attitudes survey also found that 50 per cent of people are planning to take advantage of the five-day relaxation on household mixing over Christmas. Interestingly, support for the government’s plans is higher among the over-70s (57 per cent) than it is among 16- to 29-year-olds (51 per cent). That might be a reflection of greater value put upon family gatherings among older age groups than among the young, who may put a higher value on being able to go to the pub – something which will be banned over Christmas in Tier 3 areas.
The ONS this morning has also published its latest weekly Infection Survey, which shows, not unexpectedly, that the prevalence of the infection in the community has risen sharply again after three weeks of falling numbers. Its central estimate is that 567,300 people in England were infected with the virus between 6th and 12th December – about 1 in 95 of the population. This suggests infection levels, in that week, were not quite yet back up where they were in mid-November. The epicentre, however, has changed – with infections now rising in London, the East and the East Midlands while still falling in the North.
When it comes to age groups, infection rates are rising fastest among young children, but – one thing which will worry the government – is that infections have started rising, at a slower rate, among the over-70s.