Populist propaganda is hurting vaccine rollout in UK - GulfToday

Populist propaganda is hurting vaccine rollout in UK


Boris Johnson

Sam Hancock, The Independent

News last week that Moderna’s vaccine has been approved in the UK warrants hope, optimism, and a huge sense of relief – but on the other hand, does it?

While the US-developed Covid jab was busy becoming the third to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), a number of Britons began rejecting foreign vaccines. They were opting to wait for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, they said – or put more plainly: the one made in England.

At least that’s what an NHS doctor in Stockton claimed was happening, when “some local patients” began “turning down” vaccines over the weekend, telling him they were going to “wait for the English one” instead.

These are “people at risk of death in the depths of a pandemic,” Dr Paul Williams – a former Labour MP – reminded anyone reading his tweet. It is, he said, “a lesson that nationalism has consequences”.

And can we be surprised?

Since the 16th century, and roughly five centuries hence – all the way up to 23 June 2016 and beyond – this country’s leaders have convinced its people that “British is best”. Its produce, its citizens, its way of thinking, its government, its monarchy: all of it. For some people, I’m sure, it’s why they voted Leave. And now, apparently, our medicine is superior too.

When education secretary Gavin Williamson told LBC in December that the UK was receiving a Covid vaccine before France, Belgium and the US, because “we are a much better country than every single one of them”, the seemingly abstract phrase “vaccine nationalism” became a terrifying reality. One in which government ministers freely promote the message that Britain and its people are simply better than everyone else. How ironic that he was boasting about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – developed in Belgium.  

The same goes for health secretary Matt Hancock who last year suggested that “because of Brexit” the UK had been able to approve the Pfizer vaccine, rather than wait for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to do so. A fact that was later echoed by leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, before finally being debunked by the BBC’s official fact checker.  

Clearly, the damage had already been done. So influential were these ministers’ insinuations – that Britain is better on its own, better at administering and making medicine – that people are now risking death to ensure they are injected with British goods and British goods alone.  

In these moments it is easy to blame the small-minded and the arrogant – members of the public who hold views either too archaic or ridiculous to repeat here – and it’s true, those people should be held to account. But let’s be clear, we are in this dangerous – and if we’re being totally honest, xenophobic – situation because of issues that begin and end at the top.  

As medical staff plead with people to accept any vaccine offered to them, it’s time we also accept that this government’s constant messaging that the UK is a cut above the rest is not patriotism … it is propaganda. And it was only a matter of time before that ideology became so ingrained in people’s minds it began affecting the way they understood, approached and did their bit to “stay safe, protect the NHS and save lives”.  

This pandemic is, as Boris Johnson said at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday night, a “national challenge like we have never seen before” – and one Britain can only overcome with “an unprecedented national effort”.

However, and as Dr Williams’ words signal, there seems to have been a point where the fight against coronavirus stopped being a national effort and instead became a nationalist one.

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