Real progress and fake news

Promising vaccine news in recent days and weeks represents light at the end of a tunnel which has sometimes felt endless during 2020.

We should though, remember, that nearly 200 years passed between the West Country’s Edward Jenner discovering a vaccine for smallpox and the world eradicating the disease in 1980. While technology and logistics now enable us to move much more quickly once covid-19 vaccines have been approved, we still need to continue to balance our hope with patience.

And, with the UK now the first European country to pass the tragic milestone of 50,000 covid-19 deaths, we cannot afford to lose focus on what we all must do to keep each other safe and save lives. With cases still rising, not falling, in Bristol, this means sticking to the current restrictions.

Everyone working on the vaccine trials – and volunteers taking part in them – should be immensely proud of making these steps forward possible; but we have to be realistic that the road to eradicating covid-19 may still be long. While important questions remain about as yet unpublished action plans for the rollout of any vaccine, the science behind vaccines is irrefutable. Basic vaccines are now received by nearly 90% of children worldwide, contributing to the number of infant deaths being halved since 1990.

As well as consistent public health messaging to explain and promote the take-up of approved vaccines, there is a clear case for new legislation to ensure that social media companies remove conspiracy theories about vaccines. Anti-vax fake news has doubtless contributed to a dip in the take-up of the free MMR vaccine, which saw measles return to the UK last year. Disinformation about vaccines – and covid-19 – can be fatal, and end up costing Bristolians their lives.