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The backlash against Covid vaccines among young people is the most dangerous medical misunderstanding of our times.
Fuelled by bogus information on social media, it is not only putting hundreds of thousands of young lives at risk but threatening the entire country's recovery from the pandemic.
The latest NHS figures show that nearly a quarter of Britons aged 30 to 34 have not yet had their first dose.
That rises to a third of people aged 25 to 29, and even more – 38 per cent – of 18 to 24-year-olds.
Yet this week, the Mail revealed that these age groups are no longer coming forward for their jabs.
Demand for the vaccine among young adults has plummeted by 80 per cent. Just 18,100 under-25s a day were given their first dose in the past week, compared to more than 90,000 in the week to June 18.
Clearly, there is still a terrifying level of vaccine hesitancy among the young – even though the arguments for vaccination are overwhelming.
Having the jab is also in the younger age group's interest. Without collective immunity, many of the good things in life – holidays abroad, gap years, music festivals and sports events – might never properly return.
Here, in an attempt to persuade the under-30s why they MUST have the jab, one of our foremost vaccine experts PROFESSOR ANGUS DALGLEISH gives his forensic analysis – and trenchant rebuttal – of some of the most common objections of young refuseniks.
YOUNG ONLY GET MILD SYMPTOMS
It's entirely false to assume that, because a bout of Covid seems mild or asymptomatic, it cannot leave lasting damage.
Young people, especially the under-30s, are very unlikely to die from the infection itself – but they are by no means exempt from what follows.
Figures show around one in ten people aged 18-49 go on to develop long-term symptoms after having the virus, regardless of how unwell they were initially.
Furthermore, around one in nine people aged 17-24 and one in six aged 25-34 still report symptoms 12 weeks after testing positive.
Figures show around one in ten people aged 18-49 go on to develop long-term symptoms after having the virus, regardless of how unwell they were initially meaning its vital to be vaccinated
Long Covid, the lingering after-effects of the infection, can be life-changing. As a hospital consultant, I am now seeing many patients whose health has been dramatically affected by the prolonged symptoms that often follow a mild case of Covid.
Around a million people in Britain are now believed to have long Covid. It's exhausting, debilitating and often very frightening. As yet, there's no cure.
This is a virus like no other and we're still learning about the havoc it can wreak on the lungs, the heart and other major organs.
People who refuse the vaccine because they imagine Covid can't hurt them are literally gambling with the rest of their lives.
I HAD COVID SO I DON'T NEED JAB
We don't know how long antibodies and immunity last after a Covid infection. What we do know is that there are numerous cases of people catching the virus for a second or even a third time.
And many people wrongly assume they have had Covid because they have had the symptoms – the persistent cough, the high temperature, the loss of senses of taste and smell – but without a positive antibody test, no one can say for certain that they've caught and overcome the virus.
A vaccine is a highly effective insurance policy against the disease – one which research has proven lasts at least six months.
THE TESTS WERE TOO RUSHED
This is a regular source of concern and anxiety. But consider the difference between this programme and all others: never before have so many scientists worked together, combining knowledge and pooling their results, in a global effort with a single goal.
The result was a set of vaccines that have proved highly effective against a brand new virus, and the UK jabbing programme was conducted with military efficiency.
It's the most ambitious, daring, brilliant human accomplishment in decades. Why wouldn't every single person, whatever their age, want to be a part of that?
Young people wave placards while attending anti-vaccination protesters hold a demonstration in Parliament Square, London, after the final legal restrictions were lifted in England on July 19
The speed at which it has all been done is part of the marvel. Trials that would normally take many years have been accomplished in weeks, because such vast resources have been made available.
But no corners were cut. All the various vaccines – AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and the rest – had to undergo rigorous safety checks.
The vaccines have been tested on tens of thousands of people before being made available. In Phase One and Phase Two clinical trials, jabs were tested on small numbers of volunteers to check they were safe and to determine the right dose.
In Phase Three trials they were tested on thousands of people to see how effective they were.
The group who received the vaccine and a control group who received a placebo were closely monitored for any adverse reactions or side-effects. And safety monitoring continues to this day.
TRIALS DIDN'T TEST FOR SIDE-EFFECTS
Sheer nonsense. The whole point of vaccine trials is to weed out the drugs that have unexpected side-effects.
In Australia, the government withdrew an order for 51 million doses of a vaccine being developed by the firm CSL in conjunction with the University of Queensland, because it was shown to trigger false positives in HIV tests.
The country's health secretary, Brendan Murphy, pointed out that the vaccine was probably effective at blocking serious Covid infections.
But it had this unwanted repercussion that could make it difficult for doctors to identify new cases of HIV. Rather than take that risk, the whole programme was scrapped.
That's just one example. More Covid vaccine programmes have been abandoned than have succeeded. The trials were exceptionally rigorous.
I'M WORRIED ABOUT THE RISKS
One of the main concerns the young raise is the risk of blood clots from the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
But in May, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation announced the under-40s wouldn't be offered AstraZeneca due to the extremely small risk of blood clots.
The risk of side-effects from the vaccines they are being offered is very low, although they commonly include a sore arm or feeling achy or sick.
The point is almost all drugs potentially have a side-effect. Packets of paracetamol, for instance, list skin rashes, itching, swelling of the mouth or face, shortness of breath, mouth ulcers, bleeding gums, unexplained bleeding and more.
But people still take them because, as with the vaccine, the likelihood of any of these happening is so very small.
When we hear of people becoming ill or even dying after a vaccine jab, it's easy to jump to conclusions about side-effects.
It's much harder to take a rational view and accept that coincidence plays strange tricks.
Jabbed: 18-year old Robyn Coatsworth receives her first jab at Stithians Vaccination Centre
Part of my work as an oncologist involves developing and trialling potential cancer vaccines.
A few years ago, I was due to give a patient an injection of an experimental new drug in the hope that it would prevent complications in the progress of his disease.
The vaccine was manufactured in America and sent by air. When it arrived at Heathrow, customs officials refused to release it immediately. I went to bed that night cursing the red tape.
Next morning, my patient was dead. He had suffered a catastrophic bleed on the brain, which was both tragic and unexpected.
If I had administered the vaccine as scheduled, his death would have meant the complete cancellation of the trial.
No doctor would ever have dared take the risk again. We would all have assumed that the drug, in some way that could not be discovered, had fatal side-effects.
Every time I read of blood clots or other inexplicable 'side-effects' of the Covid vaccines, I remember my patient. If his death reminds us how coincidences can seem to skew scientific data, it will not be in vain.
VACCINE WILL CHANGE OUR DNA
One consequence of the pandemic is half the country think it's no longer necessary to spend seven years at medical school to become an expert. People use the jargon of epidemiology and genetics as easily as they used to discuss last night's new TikTok sensation.
Much of the information that is shared on social media is about as scientific as a Godzilla movie.
Pictured: Members of the public queue to receive a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine outside a temporary vaccination centre set up at the Emirates Stadium, in London, on June 25
Lizards do not grow into man-eating monsters when exposed to radiation, and vaccines do not change our DNA.
The misunderstanding might arise because some vaccines use modified mRNA, to stimulate the immune system by triggering it to produce proteins which are similar to those on the surface of the coronavirus.
This is revolutionary science, but it does not affect the body's basic DNA.
BIG PHARMA CAN'T BE TRUSTED
Of all the anti-vaxxers' arguments, this is the one that makes most sense. As a general rule, no, the pharmaceutical giants can't be trusted completely because whenever they launch a new drug they have tens of millions of dollars at stake, and this means that there is often a temptation to draw conclusions that favour the commercial interests of their products.
But in the case of the Covid vaccines, everything is different. To encourage companies to work fearlessly in developing a drug to save the world, the Government has guaranteed they will not be penalised for mistakes – as long as there is complete honesty and transparency.
In other words, the drugs companies stand to lose everything if they attempt any cover-ups.
They could face fines running into many millions of pounds. But as long as they hold nothing back, they're in the clear. In this instance, we can trust them with our lives.
IT MIGHT MAKE ME INFERTILE
The fear of infertility has made many young women reluctant to have the vaccine.
But there is no reliable evidence, none at all of which I am aware, that proves the jab has ever affected fertility.
The unknown effects of long Covid are likely to be much more serious. This virus can have really dreadful effects on internal organs. Please don't take the risk.
If you're planning to get pregnant, get inoculated.
IT COULD DAMAGE IMMUNE SYSTEM
This is another fundamental misunderstanding of how the virus works. Covid poses the most dangerous threat to people with compromised immune systems.
That typically means over-55s (the age at which natural immunity begins to decline) and in particular over-75s (who might sometimes have no effective immunity left at all).
A Covid-19 rapid testing facility is set up in Elephant and Castle on June 15, 2021 in London
But many younger people have compromised immune systems too. There's often no way of knowing until it's too late. You really don't want to find out by suffering a serious bout of Covid.
In the wake of reports that people who have been doubly vaccinated are still catching Covid, some are arguing that this means the vaccine is ineffective.
Actually, the reality is quite the opposite. Those getting ill will have severely depleted immune systems. The only thing saving them, quite probably, is the vaccine. Without the jabs, they might well have died.
And no – there are no proven cases of new allergies being triggered by a Covid vaccine.