London, United Kingdom – Sara Saigol, a 48-year-old doctor, has lost two family members to COVID-19.
For her, there is no doubt – when the vaccine becomes available, she will be lining up for it.
“One was a fit and healthy 37-year-old woman,” she told Al Jazeera. “Not being able to breathe is a horrible way to die.”
The UK on Wednesday became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for widespread use. It will be deployed through the National Health Service (NHS) starting next week; the elderly, institutional care home workers, and frontline health and social workers will receive the drug first.
But with disinformation online about 5G mobile networks fueling the virus, claims that vaccine trial volunteers have died after taking the hits and conspiracy theories that people will be microchipped when they take the vaccines, the government is now faced with the difficult task of tackling vaccine hesitancy.
There is also some skepticism about buying the vaccine quickly.
According to the London-based Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), social media companies allow the so-called “anti-vax” movement to spread lies on their platforms.
Since last year, according to the CCDH, anti-vaxxers on social networks have increased their number of subscribers by about eight million people.
Unlike Saigol, journalist Safeera Sarjoo, 32, has two minds.
“I live with my parents and grandmother who are high risk people, so at first glance it makes sense if it means I won’t be at risk for them,” she says.
“But I am skeptical of how quickly it has been developed and deployed. I don’t feel very informed about this and the associated risks.
“It feels like it’s more of a race to find out who can get it out and who can claim to develop a vaccine. I don’t want to be collateral damage on what looks like a competition. “
Last month, a YouGov survey for the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary’s University in London asked more than 1,000 Londoners how likely or unlikely they were to take the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Thirty-nine percent of those polled from ethnic minorities said they were likely to get the vaccine, compared to 70 percent of whites. Thirty-seven percent of respondents from ethnic minorities said they were unlikely to take it, compared to 17 percent of white respondents.
The UK government has access to 357 million doses of vaccine from seven different developers.
But some Brits are worried about different levels of efficiency.
Lawyer Zaiban Alam said she would be “in the lead in requesting” the vaccine for herself and her family.
However, Alam added that she was afraid of the risk to her elderly parents, who are of South Asian descent, a community particularly affected by the pandemic, if they receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.
This medicine can prevent 70.4% of people from getting sick and up to 90% if a lower first dose is used.
“My father is very old, fragile and vulnerable. There is no margin for error, ”she said.
Another survey conducted last month by the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP), a research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, tested people’s receptivity to misinformation.
The poll, which surveyed 4,000 people, found that 54% in the UK would ‘definitely’ accept a COVID-19 vaccine. After being exposed to misinformation, the number fell 6.4%.
Professor Heidi Larson, who heads the VCP, said more communication campaigns were needed before the vaccine arrived.
“There should be more local community conversations, especially in communities [and] groups that have been most affected by COVID-19, to listen and hear concerns before the vaccine arrives so that healthcare professionals have time to prepare answers to questions they are sure to have when the time is right to vaccinate, ”she told Al Jazeera.
“ Endless ” restrictions
Blacks and Asians in the UK are twice as likely to be infected as whites, while at least 60% of UK healthcare workers who have died from COVID-19 are from ethnic minorities.
When he saw a call in June for ethnic minorities to sign up for vaccine trials with US biotech firm Novavax in Leeds, 27-year-old real estate consultant Haaris Ahmed signed up.
He received his first dose on October 14 and a booster on November 4.
He then developed a fever, flu symptoms, pain in the arm where he was injected and swollen lymph nodes, but he tested negative for the coronavirus when he came under full observation.
“Like everyone else, I’m sick of the endless restrictions,” he says. “I firmly believe that an effective vaccine or vaccines will allow us to come out of this crisis and return to normalcy.
“This is associated with the confidence that they are not trying to inject nanobots into me, or that Bill Gates is secretly trying to sterilize me,” said. [conspiracy] theories there.
Vaccine trials have so far shown that immunizations are effective in preventing disease. But more research is needed to determine if they are preventing a person from being contagious and spreading the virus.
The government has tried to allay any concerns about the vaccine, but is stepping up efforts amid fears of a backlash from anti-vaxxers.
During the pandemic, thousands of people marched against the government, calling the pandemic a hoax and denouncing the lockdown measures as a threat to their personal freedoms.
On Sunday, The Guardian reported that the NHS was planning to enlist celebrities and “influencers” with significant numbers of social media followers to convince people to get vaccinated.
On Thursday, a day after the UK announced the landmark Pfizer-BioNTech jab decision, Health Minister Matt Hancock said he would be vaccinated on live TV to prove the drug is safe, said reported the British newspaper Times.