Backlash fears over vaccine that is no 'silver bullet' in fight against Covid-19

Despite the UK's strong record on immunisation, introducing a vaccine during a pandemic is not without risk

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in front of displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken, October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo/File Photo/File Photo
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Public expectations after Covid-19 vaccines are introduced need to be carefully managed to ensure disillusionment does not turn into a backlash, leading research institutions said.

The Royal Society and British Academy said that first-generation vaccines are unlikely to be a "silver bullet".

There will still be a longer transition period where people will be required to socially distance and wear face masks, the report said.

Prof Melinda Mills, lead author of the report Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment, believes the government's continued reference to a vaccine as a great hope has led to public misunderstanding of the realities.

"When the vaccine comes it will be quite complex and people will still have to engage in social distancing or working from home," Prof Mills told The National.

"There will be multiple vaccines, which is quite unusual, and communicating this under conditions of uncertainty will be very frightening for some people.

"That is why we need to start a transparent dialogue about how the vaccine will be made available across the country."

Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their first coronavirus vaccine was 90 per cent effective, raising hopes around the world that life will soon return to normal.

The report suggests that 80 per cent uptake of a vaccine is required to protect communities from infection if the R rate were between 2.5 and 3.

The R rate is the average number of people infected by one carrier.

The UK has a strong record of immunisation for most major diseases but the uncertainty created by the pandemic, and the hardships endured by thousands of families, has left many susceptible to misinformation.

The report also highlights the role that misleading information has played in shaping attitudes towards vaccination.

Since the start of the pandemic, mistruths online have sparked debate about the role social media companies play in protecting information about the virus and its cure.
Anti-vaccination movements have created content that has a clear message and is easy to share.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have agreed to work with the UK government to promote factual messages on vaccines.

They also promised to fight and not to profit from Covid-19 vaccine misinformation shared on their platforms.

Centralised tracking and tracing in England to limit the spread of the virus received much criticism from local governments, which felt ill-equipped to fight the pandemic.

Today’s report suggests that a decentralised approach for introducing vaccines is the best way to increase community engagement.

“There is always some resistance to decentralising things and working at the local level, but you have to meaningfully engage with people if you want to bring about certainty," Prof Mills said.

"People have genuine fears about vaccines and they often trust their local GP or community leaders over more senior politicians."