Anti-Vaxx Antagonism in Europe
Featured Photo by Clay Banks via Unsplash

Globally, Coronavirus has stolen 2.16 million lives; approximately 670,000 of these belong to Europe. With 36 million cases and 3 EU approved vaccines (as of January 29th 2021) offering a glimmer of hope, why are so many of Europe’s citizens resisting the jab?

Social media’s influence 

Social media is one of the most highly accessible and prominent media of the 21st century, however, its influence is not always as favourable as its precedence.  

For many people, the information read on online platforms develops and contributes to their overall perspectives of a matter – shaping their opinion drastically. One notoriously disputed matter across the internet is vaccinations, but how have we seen the footprint of social media influences in our society? The aftermath of the MMR vaccine media scandal (in the early 2000s) is still well known today; a minority still holds on to the claims of it developing autism in children, despite scientific research suggesting otherwise. A more contemporary issue we face today is the misinformation surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines. 

Social media is infamous for the dangerous widespread of incorrect information. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many platforms have been accused of exploiting and profiting from the storm of posts and articles reporting on the topic. Whilst this may not be illegal, the platforms continue to not monitor the content for safe viewing. The ‘Center for Counteracting Digital Hate’ (CCDH) estimates 5.35 million UK followers of anti-vaccination accounts across social media.

As of October 2020, we saw Facebook make an effort to manage fake news. The corporation took the initiative to ban all ‘anti-vaccination’ paid adverts. Therefore, limiting the negative press surrounding Covid-19 vaccination on the platform. This solely applied to paid promotions and has had no impact upon unpaid posts and groups which have escalated in their scaremongering in recent months. However, it must be noted that groups and pages spreading false information have been hidden by the platform since the eruption of the Covid-19.  

As a whole, the attempt to counteract rumours across social media has not been entirely successful. According to the CCDH, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube received a collective total of 891 reports of information between July and August 2020. In an underwhelming manner, only 21 of these were removed across all the platforms. After receiving criticism from the shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth, describing the content as “dangerous nonsense”. Twitter updated its expanded approach as of 16th December 2020. The statement uploaded is as follows:

“Moving forward and beginning next week, we are expanding the policy and may require people to remove Tweets which advance harmful false or misleading narratives about COVID-19 vaccinations, including:  

  • False claims that suggest immunizations and vaccines are used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations, including statements about vaccines that invoke a deliberate conspiracy. 
  • False claims which have been widely debunked about the adverse impacts or effects of receiving vaccinations; or 
  • False claims that COVID-19 is not real or not serious, and therefore that vaccinations are unnecessary.” 

From a Labour Party perspective, the actions taken are well overdue and anticlimactic in response to the sceptical wave drowning the success of the vaccines. Furthermore, social media has been a breeding ground for high–profile figures to voice their opinions of the vaccine. With the negative input from the likes of Novak Djokovic and Noel Gallagher. Many of their followers have also engaged in the backlash against inoculation. It is well known that the opinions of our favourite sport and music idols have an impact in forming our judgments. The question is; should social media platforms limit the content uploaded by these influencers, or would that be a breach of freedom of speech?

Vaccination controversy swarming Europe

This vaccine has been fundamental to the preservation of human life and groundbreaking in terms of speed and efficiency. Yet amidst the chaos of the pandemic, as resisted as never before. The countries of Europe are dreadfully divided in attitudes towards the jab. 

France, the home of the vaccine pioneer Louis Pasteur, is highly reluctant to accept immunisation. Only 40% of the French public have demonstrated willingness, with a considerable proportion choosing to protest in the streets. After enduring vigorous lockdowns and early curfews, the French public was expected to react very differently to the news of such hope. The French medical director of emergency service, Frederic Adnet, believes we should be vaccinating against Covid-19 in “the same way we vaccinate against the flu” but alas, in the race for the vaccine rollout, France was globally in the last place. Within the first couple of days, France was only able to administer a few hundred doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines, comparatively low to the 130,000 doses in the first week of Britain’s rollout. 

Many analysts have questioned why France is so far behind, an answer to this has been found in the national pre-vaccination consultations. This refers to the preliminary appointments which outline the potential risks and consequences behind the vaccine. Critics believe this is the root of the uncertainness for the French public which has delayed the vaccination programme in correspondence to its other European counterparts.  

Vaccine nationalism has also become a newly found term amid the pandemic, this referring to countries pushing for the best access to the vaccines, creating tensions amongst the nations. Many European countries have found a reason to dispute, particularly concerning vaccine supplies. With Oxford AstraZeneca advising EU countries to brace for large volume decreases of its coronavirus vaccine, many countries are struggling to supply sufficient doses. As of 28th January 2021, all scheduled vaccination appointments in the city of Madrid, Spain have been cancelled in response to depleted supplies. 

Spain recently announced that it would keep a national register of Covid-19 vaccine refusers after finding that this number may be larger than anticipated. Similarly to the problems in neighbouring  France, the Spaniards too have had difficulty with the rate of vaccine dispersion. Evidently, it is not the response to vaccination that is creating issues. It is the shortages caused by the row between AstraZeneca and the EU. In Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, high levels of scepticism are linked with governmental distrust.

Poland has endured months of great political unrest since the appointment of the new president, Andrzej Duda. His controversial laws on abortion in Poland have sparked a so-called ‘war on women‘ with retaliation coming from numerous countries around the world. This opposition to the government has been a cause of fear towards the vaccine. As a family member of mine described: “They [the government] will give themselves the good stuff and give us some cheap vaccine that does more harm than good.” In Poland, mandatory vaccination by governmental powers is “an uncomfortable echoing of the past [communist] regime,” says Heidi J. Larson, the founding director of the Vaccine Confidence Project. It is highly speculated that many eastern European citizens feel the same way – fearing a resurgence of the communist reign.

What does the future hold for Europe?

Global scientists believe 70% of the population needs to be immunised for the vaccine to be effective. As of now, countries like the UK are paving the path for other European countries through their successful immunisation programme. However, many are lagging behind.  As inoculation becomes more vital to the healing of public health, some corporations are demanding vaccination. Qantas Airways have released a statement declaring that passengers will need to provide proof of vaccination in order to fly. This idea is expected to popularise amongst many activities and public services in the future. But temporarily, the common effort is to immunise, to restore normality as soon as possible.