Impact Social is analysing the weekly public discussion of vaccination in the UK. We cleaned the datasets by removing all re-tweets, shares to focus on general citizen conversations only. We then randomised the datasets and took out statistically representative samples for our teams to physically read and provide insight.
The overall driver of the discussion on the vaccine is trust. This is not about crazed anti-vax conspiracy theories undermining confidence within the population. It involves seemingly rational people expressing a lack of confidence in government and their scientific advisors which results in a rejection of the vaccine on the grounds of necessity and safety. This feeling is further compounded by ‘sinister’ ministerial talk of restricting freedoms for those who refuse to be inoculated.
The UK government will be heartened that conversations in support of the vaccine have increased over recent weeks. People encourage the government to ‘get on with it’ as the lockdown bites. They are also critical of those reluctant to accept the jab for fear that they may prolong the restrictions. This may not be a total vote of confidence for the jab per se, but it certainly reflects a desire to support and do whatever it takes to get back to normal.
Meanwhile there is a growing number of people expressing their delight having received or about to receive their inoculation.
KEY DISCUSSION TOPICS
Concerns over vaccine safety
Many are clearly concerned as to potentially negative side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine. They feel it has not been properly tested which could result in long term harm. They question how a vaccine which would normally take 5 to 10 years to become available can be produced in months and still considered ‘100% safe’. They suggest claims that ‘no corners have been cut in producing the vaccine’ are illogical and sense they are being lied to. This feeling has been compounded by reports that the vaccine has produced significant side effects in people with severe allergies. Led by more youthful members of the public many discuss the rationale of taking an untested vaccine when the chances of dying from Covid-19 are, for them, so low.
Much of this discussion is driven by people who are not natural supporters of government and authority. In this instance, their distrust has been fuelled by what they see as contradictory statistics and information since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile their cynicism is peaked by involvement of ’big pharma’ and the profit motive. Suspicious by nature these citizens see a potentially negative outcome in several areas of the vaccination programme.
Should not be forced to take the vaccine
Adding to the sense of distrust people have reacted badly to Minister Zahawi’s (and others in government) suggestion that freedoms may be withheld from those who refuse the vaccine. Many are are incensed at the idea they will be forced, bullied or coerced into taking the vaccine; actions which they describe as chilling, scary and sinister. They resent any attempt by government to divide the country into good (vaccine taker) and bad (vaccine denier) saying it should be left to individual choice. They reinforce the point that the vaccine has been rushed through and people should be left to weigh up the jab vs Covid risk for themselves and it should not forced upon them.
There are many many questions being bandied around on line which reflects much confusion within the population e.g. Why do I need a vaccine if I’ve already had the virus? Does the single dose vaccine mean that people won’t really be fully protected? Who gets the (better) Pfizer jab? Are they going to mix and match between jabs – is this safe? Once the vulnerable are safe why can’t we all go back to normal?
Will not stop the restrictions
Clearly there are people who sense the government will not give up control lightly. They feel that talk of the vaccine allowing life to get back to normal is a fallacy and cite the ‘Easter’ target already slipping to ‘the summer’ and beyond as proof that controls in some form are here to stay. They query why the country cannot go back to normal - once Covid deaths have been eradicated and the NHS is protected – with some suggesting that the country has been taken over by scientists.
A large proportion of this conversation is concerned with the speed of the rollout and petty squabbles over prioritisation. Here the government comes under fierce criticism for not distributing the vaccine more rapidly. People express their exasperation and tell the government ‘just get on with it’. Frustration at the seemingly unequal distribution of the vaccine is also being voiced as people question why citizens in their 70s have received the jab while their more elderly relatives have not. Younger generations are also angry at reports of missed appointments and squandered vaccines. These people go online to accuse those not taking the opportunity to be inoculated as complacent and wasteful.
Despite the downbeat tone and subject matter there is no doubt as to these people’s wholehearted support for the vaccination programme.
Happy to take it
The vaccine is clearly welcomed by many. Interestingly few speak in terms of personal bereavement or concern about health per se. Rather they talk in more general terms about how the vaccine can end the nightmare and return their lives to normal. Potential risks are dismissed as they see the jab as the only way out of the cycle of lockdowns. These people have their sleeves rolled up and the needle can’t come soon enough. This conversation is further fuelled by reports of new variants, increased restrictions and the national lockdown.
There are also a significant numbers of post from those who have had the vaccination (or are related to them), applauding the scientists and medical profession in general. These people are clearly thrilled and do not hesitate to post their excitement
Fight the anti-vaxers
The anti-vax lobby comes under attack. Some are extremely angry accusing people who peddle such theories of being anarchists driven by pure malice. And yet, interestingly, the majority of this discussion involves people mocking the group and their theories. They repeat their anti-vax mantras with a sense of humour, derision and disbelief.