Anti-vaxxers spreading misinformation could prevent Britain reaching the level of herd immunity needed to end the Covid pandemic, scientists have warned.
A new study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that only 54 per cent of people surveyed said they would “definitely” be vaccinated. After being shown online misinformation such as articles claiming the vaccine can change a person’s DNA, willingness fell by 6.4 per cent to around 47 per cent.
It is estimated that at least 55 per cent of the population will need to be immunised in order to achieve herd immunity, so the dissemination of ill-informed data could stop Britain being able to escape restrictions.
It is the first study to prove a definitive link between misinformation and a drop in the desire for vaccination.
Professor Heidi Larson, the study’s lead author, said: “Covid-19 vaccines will be crucial to helping to end this pandemic and returning our lives to near normal.
“However, vaccines only work if people take them. Misinformation plays into existing anxieties and uncertainty around new vaccines, as well as the new platforms that are being used to develop them. This threatens to undermine the levels of Covid-19 vaccine acceptance required.
“When the willingness to take a vaccine is hovering above or below threshold for herd immunity, it’s a very vulnerable point and we should not brush off misinformation as it can absolutely knock the needed level for herd immunity down.”
The study found that those unwilling to be vaccinated were mostly concerned about vaccine safety. Many also believed they were not at risk of contracting Covid or would not become seriously ill if they did.