Misinformation about fertility and coronavirus jabs is driving vaccine hesitancy in Britain, Nadhim Zahawi warned today.
The UK’s vaccine minister said focus groups and polling had shown much of the wariness toward the jabs centered around ‘issues of fertility’.
Speaking to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, he added the problem was ‘proving to be sadly quite potent’ among both men and women.
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch told MPs the misinformation was coming from within the family, rather than social media, which made it more difficult to target.
More than 22million people have already had at least one dose of the vaccines so far and, overall, uptake is thought to be around 90 per cent.
Refusal rates are disproportionately higher among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. Language barriers and a mistrust of Government are thought to make minorities more susceptible to misinformation about the jabs.
Mr Zahawi told the committee: ‘We want to keep making sure we communicate to women. Because some of the anti-vax messages, which are clearly directed at both young men and women around fertility, are false, but proving to be sadly quite potent.
‘Some of the focus groups and polling evidence suggests much of the hesitancy is around issues around fertility.’
Ms Badenoch added: ‘I had a roundtable with clinicians last week and one of them works in east London, and she said that the fertility thing, it’s not social media where we can speak to social media companies and ask them to take it down, it’s the auntie.
‘Aunts who may be less well-educated or come from a different environment growing up, in a different country, advising younger people. We can’t go into people’s homes and interfere with the sort of communication that is taking place, that’s very personal.
Misinformation about fertility and coronavirus jabs is driving vaccine hesitancy in Britain, Nadhim Zahawi warned today
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch told MPs the misinformation was coming from within the family, rather than social media, which made it more difficult to target
‘So, that’s why we just must keep repeating the positive messages about safety and also ensuring that clinicians have the information to be able to provide comfort to those people who are seeing the doctors.
‘It has to be from the people who are trusted as experts.’
Ms Badenoch told MPs that vaccine hesitancy rates were ‘pretty much the same’ across men and women.
BAME communities are being put at risk by UK’s ‘colour-blind’ Covid vaccine strategy, experts warn
Black and ethnic minority people are being put at risk by the UK’s ‘colour-blind’ Covid vaccination strategy, experts warned today.
The mammoth operation has prioritised Brits by age after mountains of research and data showed those who are older are more at risk of dying from the virus.
But a group of top medics, including a top NHS race official, claims ministers should have focused on ethnic minorities after the over-70s got their first dose.
Studies show Covid death rates are highest in BAME communities, which experts say is because ethnic minorities are more likely to get infected in the first place because they live in deprived areas, use public transport, work public-facing jobs and live in overcrowded and multi-generational homes.
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI), which designed the jabs priority list, said, however, that age was the single-biggest risk factor.
But Professor Azeem Majeed, a primary care expert from Imperial College London, warned the move had ‘disregarded’ BAME communities.
‘In the first phase of the Covid vaccination programme, large numbers of low-risk people were vaccinated such as NHS and university staff who were not working in patient-facing roles’, he told MailOnline.
‘These vaccine recipients would have been at much lower risk of severe disease and death than some other groups but were vaccinated ahead of them.’
But Mr Zahawi admitted that data on specific rates of vaccine hesitancy and refusals were not held centrally, meaning the exact number of people turning it down is not known. Ministers are relying on surveys to estimate the scale of the problem.
‘We don’t centrally hold data on refusal rates, but of course we know the size of each cohort,’ he told the committee.
‘We can certainly use different data sets to estimate, whether it’s ONS (Office for National Statistics) data or otherwise, so we know how far we are getting in terms of vaccinating each cohort.
‘We continue to publish that and we publish by age now as we go down each category.’
MailOnline’s analysis of NHS figures suggest 89 per cent of Brits over the age of 65 have accepted the vaccines.
Those figures do not take into account younger patients on the priority list with underlying health conditions.
Mr Zahawi told MPs that up-to-date surveys had suggested 94 per cent of the UK adult population were likely or very likely to take up the vaccine – which he claimed was possibly the highest rate in the world.
He added: ‘When I took this job on back in mid-November, I think if you look at the ONS data or other published polls, vaccine positivity was in the high 70s, touching 80 per cent.
‘It’s now at 94 per cent of the UK adult population saying that they are likely or very likely to take the vaccine.
‘I think that is, for your committee, the best measure that the strategy is working, watching that number continue to climb – the highest probably in the world, I think, if I’m not mistaken, in terms of vaccine positivity.’
Ms Badenoch told MPs that volunteered for one of the vaccine trials to boost confidence in the jabs.
While she did not reveal which trial she took part in, she said the results had still not been un-blinded, suggesting it is a jab still in clinical trials.
‘One of the helpful things about having ethnic minorities in these ministerial positions is that we have a totally different perspective, or an additional perspective rather, and you kind of get early warning signals,’ she told the Women and Equalities Committee.
‘You will remember back in 2020 we didn’t even know if we were going to have a vaccine and the emphasis was actually on trials.
‘We could see the misinformation around the vaccine being tested on ethnic minorities and things like that.
‘That was one of the reasons why very early on I decided to go on vaccine trials and encouraged others to do so, Nadhim (Zahawi) did the same thing.
‘All of that was trying to build the confidence in people that this is something that is safe, this is something that we want to encourage as many people as possible to get involved in, and improve their understanding of what trials means.’