Watch: December 8 is ‘V-Day’, Matt Hancock says
Matt Hancock’s use of language to imply victory on the first day of the UK coronavirus vaccine roll-out is “premature and dangerous”, an expert has warned.
Care home workers and those aged 80 and over are among the first people to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech jab as part of a major programme.
It comes after the UK became country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine last week and doses began arriving in hospitals at the weekend.
Grandmother-of-four Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first person in the UK to receive the vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry at 6.31am on Tuesday morning.
While some have hailed this as “the light at the end of the tunnel”, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to communicate “transparently, empathetically and proactively about uncertainty, risks and vaccine availability” in order to build trust with the public.
In a recent report, the WHO said evidence showed strategies that aim to change people’s thoughts and feelings towards vaccines have not always been successful in increasing uptake.
Stephen Reicher, a professor of psychology and a prominent critic of the government’s COVID response, cited this report before criticising Hancock’s use of language.
He tweeted: “Matt Hancock should read the new WHO report on acceptance and uptake of vaccines which urges transparent communication and not hyping expectations.
“Talking about 'V-Day', implying victory, is premature and dangerous.
“Moreover it repeats the mistakes of the summer when the Government lifted restrictions on July 4th, promoted talk of 'Freedom Saturday' and 'Independence Day', people relaxed and infections were never driven down... hence the mess we are in today.”
Reicher has previously criticised the government’s coronavirus messaging, arguing a clearer communications campaign could have helped to suppress the spread of infections.
He has also blamed the media’s damaging use of other terms like “panic buying” and “covidiots” on the government’s poor messaging and COVID strategy.
In July, he tweeted: “Throughout this pandemic we have stressed that behaviour and behaviour change are as much to do with information and opportunity as with motivation.
“And if people breached lockdown it was more to do with poor messaging and inadequate support than stupidity, weakness or ill-will.”
He added: “We said this when the media was awash with stories of 'panic buying'. No we said, if people are stockpiling (and few are), it is because your stories convey information that key resources are about to run out. They are only doing what is sensible given what they have been told.
Watch: Margaret Keenan’s reaction to getting the coronavirus vaccine
“We said this when there was controversy about 'covidiots' crowding in public parks. No, we said, people have been told they can go out but there isn't enough public space available. So open the golf courses and the playing fields so people can go out and stay distanced.”
“Time and time and time again, we see the public blamed for the errors of the government,” he added.
While the government hails the vaccine roll-out, it has continued to warn the public that the pandemic is not over.
Asked by Conservative MP Joy Morrissey if the UK should be able to move quicker to lift local restrictions in the new year, Hancock replied in the Commons: “I very much hope so but there’s some time between now and then.
“We’ve got to temper our joy and enthusiasm at today’s announcement with the need to keep each other safe between now and then. Let’s not blow it since we can see the answer is on the horizon.”
Last week, Boris Johnson also said: "The approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in the UK marks a momentous step in our fight against COVID-19.
"But we still have some way to go and everyone needs to keep following the rules to keep the virus under control.”
“The highly-anticipated vaccine rollout this week comes after more than 61,000 deaths from a virus that has ravaged the UK as well as the rest of the world – with more than 1.5 million fatalities recorded globally.”
Watch: Matt Hancock: NHS faces “Herculean task” rolling out vaccine