Call to ‘not point the finger or stigmatise’ over vaccine hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy should not be tackled with “pointing the finger”, one commentator has said, after the Health Secretary expressed “frustration” over people not taking up the offer of a Covid-19 jab.

Dr Zubaida Haque, the former deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank, said that vaccine hesitancy was being used as a “red herring” by the Government.

The remarks come after Matt Hancock voiced his frustration that some people are still not getting the coronavirus vaccine, amid fears of the spread of the variant first identified in India.

Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Mr Hancock said the majority of people admitted to hospital in Bolton, which has seen the biggest outbreak of the B1.617.2 variant, had been eligible for the jab but had not taken it up.

“The majority have not been vaccinated and, of them, most of them could have been vaccinated, which is frustrating to see, but is also a message to everyone,” Mr Hancock said in the House of Commons on Monday.

“It just reinforces the message that people should come forward and get vaccinated because that is the best way to protect everybody.”

Dr Haque, who is also a member of independent Sage, told Good Morning Britain: “The Health Secretary has suggested that this is about vaccine hesitancy, but at the moment his conclusion seems to be based on hospitalisations in Bolton of 18 people, of which a third have been vaccinated.

“Now he’s suggesting that of the 11 or 12 they didn’t have their vaccine when they were offered, but we don’t know why they didn’t take up their vaccine – it may have been medical reasons, it may have been other reasons.

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“This whole notion that, that at the moment, everyone’s freedom is threatened because of vaccine hesitancy groups, is absolute nonsense.

“The main threat at the moment is this (new) variant is highly transmissible – it’s 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant – and it is rapidly spreading across the country.”

She added: “The problem is at the moment vaccine hesitancy is being used as a red herring.

“Absolutely everybody should take vaccinations because it reduces severe disease, and it will take the pressure off the NHS. But there was a key issue here which is, how is the Government going to stop the spread of this variant?

“It takes a while to roll out this vaccine, we’ve still got millions and millions of people who haven’t had either the second dose or any dose at all.

“It’s going to take a couple of months but we can’t wait a couple of months so what else is the Government doing now?”

Weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases in the UK
(PA Graphics)

She said that the border policy was “leaky” and that the test and trace system was “dysfunctional” and “does not work”.

Dr Haque continued: “With vaccine hesitancy, there are a wide variety of reasons that people are hesitant and nervous about taking up the vaccine.

“The research has shown that it is about anxieties and concerns ranging from side effects, to whether the vaccine will work, to whether it will affect fertility, to people having underlying illnesses and wondering whether it will affect them.

“And then, of course, there are issues with some communities about long-term distrust.

“The most important thing with vaccine hesitancy is not to blame, it’s not to stigmatise, is not to point the finger, but to ask those communities: What are their concerns? And help them to take up the vaccine.”

Meanwhile, she said that the Government should have “stalled” the lifting of restrictions on Monday.

She said: “What the Government should have done was to stall this stage of the road map, particularly because we didn’t pass test four – test four of the Government’s road map said that if we think that there’s any further risk from new variants of concern, we should stall – they completely ignored that and have gone ahead.”