Care home workers refusing coronavirus vaccine as anti-vaxx disinformation spreads

Mike Wright
·5-min read
A healthcare worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at the Lady Forester Community nursing home in Wenlock, Shropshire. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday January 13, 2021. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Monday evening's Downing Street press conference that almost a quarter of care home residents in the UK had received a jab. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire - Nick Potts/PA Wire
A healthcare worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at the Lady Forester Community nursing home in Wenlock, Shropshire. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday January 13, 2021. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Monday evening's Downing Street press conference that almost a quarter of care home residents in the UK had received a jab. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire - Nick Potts/PA Wire
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Carers are refusing to have the coronavirus vaccine, industry leaders have warned, amid concern over anti-vaxx disinformation being spread on Whatsapp.

With outbreaks of Covid-19 in care homes more than trebling in a month, vaccines are seen as vital to stem the spread among residents.

Discussing care homes at a Downing Street press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted "we clearly have got a problem there again", but insisted the vaccine rollout in the sector should "make a huge difference".

However, a leading industry insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned that some carers are not prepared to take the vaccine.

The warning comes as some communities have been reportedly targeted with rumours on messaging sites such as WhatsApp with misinformation about vaccines containing alcohol, beef and pork.

“The take-up has been good and better than expected,” the care source said. “But there are some carers who don’t want it or can’t have the vaccine because of religious reasons.”

“However, I think that if vaccination were to be made mandatory, that would be counter-productive, because more and more people will eventually need a vaccine to do something as simple as go travelling, or go on holiday.

Care home resident Joan Potts, aged 102, is seen through a viewing screen installed for residents to safely receive visits from family members, as she speaks to Dr. Jane Allen after receiving her first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Wimbledon Beaumont Care Home, run by Barchester, in south west London, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, during England's third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began.  - Matt Dunham/AP Photo
Care home resident Joan Potts, aged 102, is seen through a viewing screen installed for residents to safely receive visits from family members, as she speaks to Dr. Jane Allen after receiving her first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Wimbledon Beaumont Care Home, run by Barchester, in south west London, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, during England's third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. - Matt Dunham/AP Photo

“There are some carers who do want it, and some who don’t.”

This comes following a survey in December which found that almost 40 per cent of care home staff may not be vaccinated when given the opportunity.

A survey from the National Care Association (NCA) found that 20 per cent of care workers say they won't get the vaccine, and potentially 20 per cent of others who are undecided may follow their example

However, Nadra Ahmed OBE, chair of the NCA, told The Telegraph that this figure has since reduced “substantially”.

“We’re looking at around eight per cent of people who are adamant they do not want the vaccine now,” she said. “There are some who don’t want the vaccine on religious grounds, or for medical reasons”.

She added that a degree of “myth-busting” was, however, necessary for some “anti-vaxxers”.

“We’ve seen that most people are desperate to get the vaccine, so the difficulty for us is the small providers who haven’t even had the vaccine. Two-thirds haven’t had it yet.”

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has not released exact figures on the number of people in the care sector to have received the vaccine.

In his statement on Friday, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said 40 per cent of elderly care home residents have been vaccinated, and that this would be completed by the end of the month. He added that Lincolnshire, Sunderland and Morecambe had at least 80 per cent of their care home residents vaccinated.

Over two million people in the UK have now been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines since the vaccination programme began.

The announcement of the latest vaccination figures comes as doctors have reported some South Asian patients have refused the vaccine, claiming it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Last month, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi asked people not to forward videos on the messaging app unless they knew they had come from a credible source.

On Friday, Dr Harpreet Sood, who is leading an NHS anti-disinformation drive, moved to dispel some of more religiously sensitive false vaccine rumours.

He told the BBC: "We need to be clear and make people realise there is no meat in the vaccine, there is no pork in the vaccine, it has been accepted and endorsed by all the religious leaders and councils and faith communities."

Meanwhile, the Hindu Council UK warned that much of the misinformation was being spread on messaging apps from countries such as India where many of its members still had close ties.

Rajnish Kashyap, general secretary of the council, called for social media companies such as WhatsApp to clamp down on the spread of vaccine falsehoods but also said the Government needed a more targeted messaging campaign addressing vaccine hesitancy in Asian communities.

In recent days, the council has been in contact with Mr Zahawi about its concerns over the impact vaccine misinformation.

Mr Kashyap told The Telegraph: “The minister did say to us that they are working to stop this misinformation on text messages and blogs, but they need to start now focusing on BAME communities. They need to stop the sources where it is coming from and sources from south Asian countries.”

WhatsApp, which has more than two billion users worldwide, has previously taken steps to clamp down on the spread of Covid-19 fake news on its app with measures such as minimising the number of times a message can be forwarded to others.

The Royal Society for the Public Health (RSPH) has warned that misinformation that targeted BAME communities could cost lives if people forwent the vaccine.

Christina Marriott, CEO, RSPH said: “The anti-vaccination agents are using messages directly targeting some religious groups – and they are targeting those who have suffered most under COVID-19. These lies are going to cost lives.”