EDINBURGH – 90-year-old granny Margaret Keenan this week became the world’s most unlikely megastar when she became the first person to receive a fully approved coronavirus vaccine in the Western world. The sweet old lady told reporters she was so happy to receive the blow because it meant she could see her family after being alone for almost a year.
For some, however, the 91-year-old, who wore a penguin-themed charity Christmas t-shirt as she received her vaccine, was the purest manifestation of their darkest fears. According to some conspiracy theorists, Keenan is a crisis actor employed by the government to trick people into taking the vaccine. Others went further, claiming that Keenan was in fact dead and an impostor was sitting in his place. It was not explained what the exact purpose of this ruse would be.
Of course, there is no evidence to support any of the conspiracy theories surrounding Keenan, who is just a seemingly kind and definitely alive woman who was the right age and lived in the right place to get the shot first. . But, as Britain was the first Western country to grant emergency use authorization for a coronavirus vaccine, it is also the first to deal with rampant anti-vaxx misinformation during a deployment. unprecedented COVID-19 vaccination.
At present, anti-vaxx views in Britain are not as widespread as in the United States. According to the latest poll figures, only one in five Britons said he was unlikely to take the vaccine if offered – a number that has declined in recent weeks. By comparison, a poll released by Pew Research last week showed that about 39% of Americans are unlikely or definitely will not take a vaccine when offered.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some underlying fears ready to be exploited by opportunistic conspiracy theorists. The same poll showed that 48% of Britons fear the vaccine is safe and more than half are concerned about its possible side effects. Other research has shown that when exposed to specific vaccine information, less than half of Britons say they will definitely take the hit.
Experts have said about 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated before COVID-19 can be considered a threat – a target that could easily be undermined by anti-vaxxers. “I hope enough people take these vaccines, but I think it will be much more of a challenge than you think,” said Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project. Financial Times last week.
Dr Jon Roozenbeek of the University of Cambridge, who has conducted research on COVID-19 conspiracy theories, told The Daily Beast: “I would say the anti-vaccination movement is a pretty big problem in terms of its potential. reduce confidence in vaccinations, and by extension vaccination rates, in both [Britain and the United States]. “
British theories largely mimic the old faithful classics pushed to the United States – microchips, fetal tissue, 5G, etc. – but sometimes they get a decidedly British twist. For example, instead of Bill Gates installing microchips in grannies for unspecified reasons, one theory accuses Boris Johnson of implementing the ploy instead.
Earlier this year, a letter claiming to be from the Prime Minister went viral on Facebook. He said: “I am writing to you personally to alert you to a new government policy, in which we propose that all UK residents be required to wear an RFID. [radio-frequency identification] puce from Jan. 1, 2021. ”If the absurd nature of the suggestion itself wasn’t the giveaway, the creators didn’t even use Johnson’s actual signature.
Another theory suggested that because Johnson’s father Stanley wrote a book called The virus in the early 1980s, this proves the pandemic was part of a decades-long family plan. Perhaps the most absurd false claim that has been spread is the one, allegedly pushed by Russia, that the Oxford vaccine made in Britain could turn people into chimpanzees.
While anti-vaxxing in the United States is typically associated with freedom-loving, mask-hating Trumpist conservatives, the protests in Britain have had a more left-wing anti-authoritarian flavor. In fact, one of the most prominent anti-vaccination protesters is Piers Corbyn, brother of former opposition Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Piers Corbyn has called COVID-19 a hoax to install a new world order, using the term “plandemic,” and was indicted for his role in the anti-lockdown protests this month.
Britain is also home to conspiracy theory king David Icke, who has been banned from some social media platforms for pushing ridiculous but ubiquitous theories about the virus. But the focus on loud, eccentric quirks like Icke and Corbyn risks overlooking much more dangerous and seemingly legitimate sources of misinformation, which are much more likely to push those undecided about the vaccine to the dark side.
During the summer, The Guardian found that engagement with anti-vaxx posts on UK Facebook pages had tripled – one of the biggest sources being an alternative medicine company, with two million likes, which generated dozens of skeptical posts about viral vaccines. ITV News reported a study on Friday showing that there are around 5.4 million UK anti-vaccination social media subscribers.
The theories have also reportedly infected the country’s National Health Service, which plays a central role in the deployment of vaccines. According to Times of London, a Facebook group with hundreds of NHS employees housed articles saying the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was a new virus, similar to smallpox, to be ‘unleashed’ around the world.
It is sources like these that can encourage undecided people to get vaccinated in order to avoid it. An article published in Nature earlier this year, warned: “Anti-vaccination clusters manage to become very tangled with undecided clusters in the main online network, while pro-vaccination clusters are more peripheral.” These experts predict that anti-vaxx voices will cover pro-vaccination voices online in the months and years to come.
However, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has insisted the government is doing everything it can to stop the anti-vaxx movement from threatening the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program. Last month, the government agreed with tech companies that it would report misinformation and expect a “quick response” for the removal. Ministers are also expected to get a weekly roundup of new COVID conspiracy theories to help coordinate efforts to neutralize them.
“The good news is it’s not growing,” Hancock said of the anti-vaxx movement last week on LBC radio, without explaining what he was basing the statement on. “We are monitoring this very closely and in fact the number of people who want to be vaccinated is increasing, and that’s good because it is obviously the right thing to do.”
If the government is looking for a vaccine cheerleader to fight misinformation, it could do worse than 90-year-old Keenan. After taking her historic photo on Tuesday, she said: “My advice to anyone who is offered the vaccine is to take it. If I can have it at 90, you can have it too.
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