A protester at a "Keep Britain Free" rally in London on July 19 2020. Picture: AFP/JUSTIN TALLIS
A protester at a "Keep Britain Free" rally in London on July 19 2020. Picture: AFP/JUSTIN TALLIS

London — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described people opposed to vaccinations as “nuts”, as he promoted the government’s expanded programme of flu shots.

“There’re all these anti-vaxxers now. They are nuts, they are nuts,” he said as he toured a medical centre in east London.

Johnson’s government has widened its winter flu vaccination programme, given fears that combined with a second wave of coronavirus infections, health services could be overwhelmed.

The vaccine will be free for the most vulnerable groups, including older people, those with underlying conditions, and younger children.

The UK department of health aims to vaccinate more than 30-million when the programmes gets under way later this year, it said in a statement.

Health secretary Matt Hancock called it “the biggest flu vaccination programme in history, and will help protect our National Health Service as we head into winter”.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said vaccination is a way of helping reduce “all avoidable risks”, with the coronavirus still circulating, and no vaccine yet available.

Experts commissioned by the government’s chief scientific officer have warned that if no action is taken now, nearly 120,000 people could die in hospitals alone in a second wave. The government is preparing for this possibility and, on Friday, wearing masks became compulsory in shops across England.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 global health threats in tackling preventable diseases.

Earlier this month, a survey indicated that 16% of British adults would “probably” or “definitely” avoid a Covid-19 vaccine. The study, by pollsters YouGov for the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, found that respondents who get most of their news from social media were more likely to refuse a vaccine.

The anti-vaccination movement has gained ground on social media in recent years, including during the coronavirus pandemic. One theory circulating online is that flu vaccines contain coronaviruses. Another says getting a flu shot can lead to a positive test for the virus.

Experts have dismissed both claims.

AFP

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