The initial stages of the vaccine rollout earlier this year in countries such as Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States provided hope that the misery of lockdowns and isolation would soon be a distant memory, in a small group of rich nations, at least.
Both Israel and the UK appeared on track to hit the rough target of 80-90% of fully vaccinated citizens that each of the experts CNN spoke with for this article said is required to drop restrictions, while America had legitimate cause for optimism. But then came a drop in the number of daily vaccinations.”
Much to the dismay of officials and public health officials, the slower uptake has seen daily vaccinations plateau, while each country remains well below the target at 63%
(Israel) and 52%
The reasons for this are varied. Some people believe they are fit healthy and young, so getting vaccinated is not a priority. Some have poor digital literacy, or limited access, and have found it too complicated to book a vaccine so gave up. And some simply don’t trust their government to the extent that they’ve become susceptible to misinformation.
Despite recent upticks in vaccination doses being administered, the reality that most countries will not hit that 80-90% goal while the Delta variant spreads presents a serious threat. Not only does it affect the speed at which these specific countries can wave goodbye to Covid but, on a global level, it also creates an opportunity for the virus to spread, mutate and break their borders to countries with lower vaccination rates. In other words, it could incubate the next disaster in this pandemic.
In the UK, inner-city areas with diverse communities have seen these dynamics play out many times.
Philip Glanville, mayor of the London borough of Hackney, explained that in “Turkish and Kurdish communities, there is a high level of trust with doctors and the NHS, but they’ve sometimes found it difficult to book appointments. Whereas in some Black-British communities, misinformation has sadly spread about the vaccine affecting pregnancy and fertility.”
Hackney has seen a drop from around 1,000 daily first doses administered to around 100 in the space of roughly two months.
And while of course many of those who want to get jabbed have now done so, the group of holdouts is bigger than most countries want it to be. And given the young age groups currently being encouraged to get their first vaccines, this is a real cause for concern, as younger people tend to have more social contacts, creating more opportunities for the disease to reproduce.
Glanville, who has himself volunteered at Hackney’s vaccination centers, criticized the UK government for playing an overly centralized role by not allowing local authorities to make decisions based on their knowledge of their own communities.
“The messaging and rules have been unclear for lots of people who want to be vaccinated,” Glanville said. “It’s not been the fault of people on the ground in Hackney, but as a volunteer, I’ve had to turn people away who turned up with an elderly relative and asked if they could have one too. The sad reality is, if people have poor literacy or digital skills, don’t really understand the rules and get turned away, they might just give up.”
In another corner of the UK, Northern Ireland is seeing a similar vaccination decline, despite a recent surge in infection.
Gabriel Scally, a former public health official in the province, explains that many Northern Irish citizens do not trust the health service or areas of the government.
“There are currently three public inquiries into dreadful failures of the health service, hospital waiting lists are appalling and the sectarian nature of our politics means that certain groups are incredibly distrustful of one part of the government or another,” he explains.
In Northern Ireland, the government is run on a principle of power sharing between Republicans (who broadly favor a united Ireland) and Unionists (who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK), with the aim that no group will feel marginalized. The most radical ends of either group are historically less trustful of leaders from the other, even when it comes to public health.
Israel wowed the world with its speedy vaccination rollout and high initial uptake. Yet in recent weeks, the international poster child of immunization has also experienced a slowdown.
The reasons for this are largely societal, Asher Salmon, the deputy director general of the country’s health ministry, explains.
“There are issues within small minorities of the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities where some people have strange ideas based on anti-vaccination misinformation,” he said. “There are also problems in Bedouin societies, where distrust in the Israeli authorities is typically quite high.”
Salmon also says that people who hold fringe political beliefs have been exposed to misinformation that complements their anti-establishment, anti-globalist views. “There are people who believe that the pharmaceutical industry has a vested interest in making the pandemic appear worse than it is.”