NI virus professor: Tiny ‘hardcore’ of anti-vaxxers causing ‘significant problems’

A professor specialising in viruses has suggested the government should start convening town hall-style meetings to allow people fearful about the Covid-19 vaccines to air their concerns.

Friday, 30th July 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 30th July 2021, 8:08 am
24th July 2021 parade in Belfast city centre

Dr Ultan Power of Queen’s University Belfast – who has been vocal throughout the pandemic about the risks posed by coronavirus – made the remarks as uptake of vaccines is slowing down.

As reported earlier this week, the rate at which people are getting first doses of the vaccine is beginning to tail off in Northern Ireland (and across the UK more generally).

The Office for National Statistics found that, by July 27, the proportion of over-18s in Northern Ireland who had their first jab was 82.6% – the lowest in the UK (England was at 88.2% and Wales and Scotland both on 90.2%).

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Some of the protestors gathered in Belfast on Saturday

Meanwhile at the weekend hundreds of people took to the streets in Belfast with signs denouncing the vaccines.

Dr Power was asked if we will simply have to accept that a rump of the population will not get vaccinated.

“No, I don’t think that’s the case,” he said.

“I think there’s a certain hardcore group of people, in a very, very small minority, that are anti-vaccinations.

“And if you talk to them, they’re anti every vaccination. So there’s no amount of scientific evidence that can be given that will persuade these people the vaccines are safe and worthwhile.

“There are other people who are genuinely concerned. I call them ‘vaccine-hesitant individuals’. Those are the people we need to try and reach with appropriate information to address their concerns.

“Maybe there are forums that need to be organised, where these people have an opportunity to ask genuine questions they have.

“If you’re somebody who’s not in the field and don’t have expertise, and you’re hearing tremendous scary stories about what vaccines will do, you’re obviously going to be thinking twice about it.”

He said anti-vax attitudes appeared alongside the very first vaccines, pioneered by Edward Jenner to treat smallpox in the 18th century.

He found success using some cowpox cells to inoculate against smallpox.

But because of the association with cowpox, cartoonists “were drawing figures of people growing horns and hooves and tails, saying: This is going to turn us into weird beings”.

Anti-vax campaigners nowadays “sound so plausible”, and the free reign they have on the web means people are “hearing two completely different stories”.

“It’s causing a significant problem because it’s giving a lot of false information to individuals who are genuinely concerned about their health.

“Those are the individuals I think we need to spend a lot of time trying to educate on the reality of the risks that are there.”

This could take the form of public health officials addressing “townhall meetings, or some kind of meetings, that will allow people to express their concerns”.

Dr Power in particular fears that younger people in particular may shun the vaccines because they do not believe they will be harmed by Covid – “but if you do get infected and pass it on to vulnerable people, that’s a huge deal for somebody else who could end up in hospital”.

Hundreds of people gathered at Belfast City Hall last Saturday for what was termed a “freedom march” to protest against lockdown, masks, and vaccinations, with an even bigger march in Dublin.

Here are a handful of the slogans on display at the Belfast protest:

>> “The spike protein they inject is the bioweapon”

>> “Stop pharma fascism”

>> “Prevention treatments for Covid-19: vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, ivermectin, hydroxocloriquine – why then is the government pushing a clinical trial vaccine instead?”

>> “Wake up, Covid is a hoax, the plan is mass genocide”

>> “Distrust government, avoid mass media, fight the lies”

>> “Revelation 18:23 – All nations were decieved by your sorcery = pharmakiea the Greek, wake up!”

>> A small child had also been given a sign saying: “They are coming for me.”

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