A third of adults are unvaccinated in London.
The 14 areas of the UK with the lowest rates of vaccination uptake are all London boroughs, including Westminster where four in ten people have not had a single jab.
As a top London doctor warned nine in 10 people currently being treated in ICU are unvaccinated, many of these people are now seeking urgent medical help in intensive care as the Omicron variant surges through London and the country.
READ MORE:Anti-vaxxers block-book vaccine appointments at Wembley to stop people getting booster
But who are these people? Why do they remain unvaccinated and what, if anything, can be done to change their mind? MyLondon has spoken with them to find out.
(Image: Ian West/PA Wire)
‘Entrenched by a community on social media’
Joe*, from Wimbledon, in a bid to discuss the vaccine with others, came across a Facebook group dedicated to people who are choosing to forgo the offer of a vaccine.
A post in the Facebook group reads: “If you understand what’s going on and didn’t take the POISON, you have survived the greatest psychological warfare in human history.”
“We all need to unite together” a comment reads below. The post sits alongside a ‘meme’ with the caption ‘How unvaccinated feel in public” depicting a lion in a herd of sheep.
“To be honest, nothing would change my mind,” Joe tells MyLondon. “Two years into this I’m perfectly healthy, I trust my own immune system and I am not worried at all.”
Dr Phil Lee, a consultant in a West London hospital treating Covid patients, says that the idea of social media communities pushing a narrative that vaccinated people are “sheep” , aligns with patients he’s seen.
He told MyLondon: “One of the saddest cases was this unvaccinated man who went into intensive care. He said ‘well, I thought I was being smarter than everyone else for the first time in my life’.
“He looked around at everyone getting vaccinated and thought ‘you people don’t know what you’re on’. I found that really sad. People end up feeling that they have found a real community of people online who are like-minded and they like that part of unvaccinated community. ”
Dr Lee said this man required extensive ventilation support and as such, came to regret his decision not be vaccinated.
Indeed, for many NHS colleagues they know all too well that not everyone is ‘perfectly health’ as they look down the barrel of the prospect of another NHS winter crisis.
Notably, one Covid patient spent eight months in ICU.
(Image: Ian West/PA Wire)
While online communities have the ability to entrench views, some of London’s unvaccinated simply have a distrust for mainstream media and the government decision makers.
“I don’t watch regular TV news [to get Covid updates] as it simply does not give a balanced view,” John* told MyLondon.
When asked what sources they did use they added “many official documents from governments” but did not specify what these were.
“[The vaccines have] not been through proper trials, no one knows the ingredients or the amount of side effects.
“It’s the Government and media pushing bull***t,” another person added.
This distrust of mainstream media and the government, again, aligns with patients Dr Lee sees in ICU.
“Some people just inherently don’t trust government and that can come from all sides of the political spectrum,” he explained.
“Labour supporters don’t trust the government because Conservatives are seen as too right-wing, while on the right there are people who don’t believe the government should be in position to force ‘me’ to do anything.
“A lot of people who don’t believe what they read in mainstream media then go to other sources of internet they feel is more reliable and get hit with misinformation and spiral.”
So, what’s the solution?
Doctors and scientists alike have consistently said that, while its easy to bash the unvaccinated for their decisions, this can actually be counterproductive.
“I do worry that a lot of the rhetoric which says ‘you’re unvaccinated, you’re a terrible person’ makes people feel they cant come forward,” Dr Lee added.
“I want people to know that even if you’re only just coming for your first jab, we won’t judge you”.
What’s clear is that there is a high degree of emotional investment in the unvaccinated population, whether it’s being anti-vaccine or anti-lockdown measures.
As such, there is likely to be a high degree of cognitive dissonance to overcome to change people’s minds given that “I am not a vaccinated person” may form a core part of their identity.
In addition, access is likely to be key factor.
The government has reported difficulty in reaching certain socio-economic, ethnic and cultural groups who often don’t have access to many healthcare services.
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One study also found increased vaccine hesitancy of Covid-19 among among Black, Hispanic or Latino populations.
This data follows a historical trend of lower vaccine uptake in areas with a higher proportion of ethnic minority groups in England, of which London is one of them.
Engaging community groups, champions, and faith leaders and targeted messaging is key, Dr Mohammad S Razai wrote in the BMJ.
“We need to engage, listen with respect, communicate effectively, and offer practical support to those who have yet to make up their minds about the vaccine. Tackling the reasons for hesitancy requires engagement, understanding, and trust,” he concluded.
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