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Anti-vaccine campaigners who spread “mumbo jumbo” on social media are “completely wrong”, Boris Johnson has said, as figures show that more than a fifth of adults in some parts of England have not had a single dose.
The Prime Minister said a voluntary approach to vaccination will remain, amid what he called other countries’ “coercion”, as he delivered a broadside against those spreading “nonsense”.
It comes as weekly figures from NHS England show that more than a fifth of adults in some parts of the country have not had a first vaccine dose, while more than half of adults in some of the biggest cities have not had their booster or third jab.
It’s absolutely wrong, it’s totally counter-productive, and the stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a vaccination centre in Moulton Park, Northampton, the PM said: “I want to say to the anti-vax campaigners, the people who are putting this mumbo jumbo on social media: they are completely wrong.
“You haven’t heard me say that before, because I think it’s important we have a voluntary approach in this country and we’re going to keep a voluntary approach.”
Mr Johnson said other European countries are going for “coercion”, and added: “What a tragedy that we’ve got all this pressure on the NHS, all the difficulties that our doctors and nurses are experiencing, and we’ve got people out there spouting complete nonsense about vaccination.
“They are totally wrong, and I think it’s time that I, the Government call them out on what they’re doing.
“It’s absolutely wrong, it’s totally counter-productive, and the stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo.”
The vaccine rollout has successfully reached tens of millions of people, with a ramping up of the booster programme in recent weeks as Omicron cases surge.
However, an estimated 4.5 million people aged 18 and over in the UK have not had a first dose, more than six million people are not double jabbed, and almost nine million eligible people have not had a booster.
The NHS England figures, published shortly after Mr Johnson’s comments, show that take-up of first doses among adults is estimated to be below 80% as of January 2 in five local authorities: Westminster (73.9%), Camden (74.0%), Islington (78.0%), Nottingham (79.0%) and Coventry (79.9%).
Fewer than half of adults in some of England’s biggest cities – Liverpool (49.1%), Birmingham (46.9%), Manchester (45.7%) and Nottingham (42.8%) – are estimated to have taken up their booster or third dose.
The data also suggests that Newham in London is the local authority in England with the lowest take-up of booster and third doses among all adults (38.5%), followed by the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets (38.6%), Barking & Dagenham (39.2%) and Westminster (40.3%).
There are multiple reasons for people not getting vaccinated, including them questioning whether it is necessary, safe or effective, concerns about side-effects, complacency due to lower perceptions of personal risk, historic distrust of some public services, and misinformation.
It's really important to keep messaging really positive and encouraging and to say ‘it's never too late, we understand it might be complicated, people get busy', and they’re very, very welcome whenever they go into the vaccine center and talk to people about any concerns they’ve got.
Dr Siobhan McAndrew, University of Sheffield
Some people will have valid medical exemptions, and millions who have recently contracted coronavirus will be unable to get a booster until 28 days after their positive test.
Dr Siobhan McAndrew, social science lecturer at the University of Sheffield, told the PA news agency there appear to be two groups of people who have not yet had a vaccine.
There are those who have a “more principled, anti-vax position”, and others who are not very informed or confused.
She said: “Those people who are more principled anti-vaxxers, I think it’s more part of their identity, and they’re less likely to change their minds, but it does mean that you know, when we look at the people who are not vaccinated, some of them are just not vaccinated yet, and they are persuadable.
“And it’s really important to keep messaging really positive and encouraging and to say ‘it’s never too late, we understand it might be complicated, people get busy’, and they’re very, very welcome whenever they go into the vaccine centre and talk to people about any concerns they’ve got.”
Dr McAndrew said there needs to be a balancing act between people feeling a “nudge” to get jabbed because it will make parts of life easier to access, such as travel, and not wanting them to feel “like they are being punished or unduly penalised for not doing as they’re told”.
Making people feel “stupid, lazy or in any way deficient” for not having had the vaccine yet is not likely to encourage them, she added.
A spokeswoman for the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust said the narrative around hesitancy has been damaging, and that stigmatising certain groups is “not helpful at all”.
She said: “We’ve really called for mobile vaccination units, so door to door testing, where you’re actually bringing the vaccine to communities which need it, particularly there are big areas in east London with multi generational housing, where actually if you could take the vaccine to those people’s doors, they would have their questions answered, they will also have the ability to get the vaccine.”