'I'm not getting vaccinated yet, but don't call me an anti-vaxxer'

A doctor prepares to administer a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

We've interviewed people in Stevenage about vaccine hesitancy and why they decided to take or not take the vaccine - Credit: PA

As vaccination efforts continue to ramp up, reporter Jacob Thorburn has spoken with members of the public about the other side of the debate.

I started this project with a basic idea, and wanted to understand 1) If there were many people in our area who have refused the vaccine and 2) Why they wouldn't want the most obvious source of protection against COVID-19?

The people I spoke to wouldn't describe themselves as 'anti-vaxxers'. They are people with their own take on the vaccine roll-out and its consequences. The (delicate) phrase that has come up in our conversations has been vaccine hesitancy.

Is misinformation at the root of vaccine hesitancy, or is there something else at play here?

*(All names in this article have been changed to maintain anonymity)

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Rosie* is an entrepreneur and local business owner based in Stevenage, having been born and raised in the town.

She's a proud mother and wife, and makes clear that her decision shouldn't be seen as one that affects others.

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"We need to do what's best for us individually. It's a very personal decision.

"As someone who's very healthy, and very knowledgeable about my own health and wellbeing, I'm not in any rush at all to take it.

"Personally, I won't be taking it at this time because I don't think it has had enough testing yet to say yes, I'll definitely take it.

"My husband has sickle cell anaemia which means he can be prone to blood clots. The latest suggestion that there's a link between the vaccine and blood clots has definitely come as a bit of a shock and makes us more reluctant.

"We just don't know what's in this one, and what its long-term effects are because it has been fast tracked."

The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in December 2020. A full list of ingredients is available on the Gov.uk website.

Due to the global pandemic, vaccination programmes were fast tracked for both development and approval by regulators across the globe - hence why it took less than a year for more than one viable COVID-19 vaccine to be offered in the UK.

By March 31, 79  people out of 20 million in the UK who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine have reported blood clots, according to MHRA.

The MHRA is currently reviewing the link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and reported blood clots - with those aged under 30 expected to be offered an alternative vaccine shot.

Claudia* works in Stevenage and received the first dose of AstraZeneca when it was offered to her earlier this year. 

She says it was a difficult decision to make as she has "deep mistrust" in the government and its agenda.

"Go back into history, it will explain why a lot of people do not trust authority. Black people in particular.

"I remember feeling very nervous as I went to have it. I don't trust the government and when they told us you're not going to get mad cow disease 30 years ago, and people then come down with it that was probably the last straw.

"The treatment of Black people generally meant I was nervous. It's in the mind, when you're trying to think logically.

"I have to admit I felt relieved when I got it, what's done is done. But I can understand why someone might feel like they don't trust others' motives."

Across Hertfordshire, different ethnic groups appear to have varying levels of interest in vaccine take-up.

By March 27, almost 60 per cent of Hertfordshire's White British eligible population had their first vaccine dose. 

Comparably, 47 per cent of the eligible Indian population have received their first jab.

And broken down further: 42 per cent of the county's eligible Asian population, 38 per cent Bangladeshi, 36 per cent Pakistani and 36 per cent Black, have taken up the offer for their first vaccine dose in Herts.

I asked Rosie about the label 'anti-vaxxer' and what it means to her.

She said: "I've had all my other vaccines, my family have had their jabs. I think the label 'anti-vaxxer' is really offensive, and isn't accurate in my circumstance.

"I respect everyone's own choice, friends and family members too. But I don't think people should impose their views on me.

"I think everyone needs to look at it individually. We've seen politicians and celebrities all over social media telling people to get the vaccine - when it should really be a personal decision.

"It's dangerous. We're hearing about vaccine passports, which I think are very wrong, and I know some people who have taken the vaccine just so they feel like they could go abroad again.

"That shouldn't be the reason why people take a vaccine."

So what would change Rosie's mind?

"More time. That's all really. Personally, I think it needs time. I don't know if I'll ever take it until they've got all the data."

More than 38 million people in the UK have now received their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine - totalling more than half of the country's total population.

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