Vaccine ‘refuseniks’ today revealed why they were still shunning Covid jabs despite living in areas with high levels of the Indian variant, with their reasons ranging from government conspiracy theories to fears of needles and worries about blood clots.
Experts have warned that the virulence of the new strain means unvaccinated people will be particularly at risk, while Tory MPs are urging Boris Johnson not to delay unlocking on June 21 for the sake of people who have been offered a jab and refused.
Surge testing is underway for the Indian variant in Bolton, Greater Manchester, and the London Borough of Hackney, but both areas have seen concerns over vaccine take-up.
Figures show that most Covid-19 patients in Bolton hospitals had not taken up the offer of a vaccine and up to 10,000 vulnerable people have also still not been jabbed.
Father-of-four Steven Biggs, 69, pictured in Bolton today, said he would not be having the vaccine because he ‘doesn’t need it’
Mother-of-three Tracey Davis, 55, said Covid jabs were party of a government ‘conspiracy’, while Edna Anear, 68, was worried about getting a blood clot
Locals today blamed conspiracy theories and apathy, with one Asian chef claiming that up to 25 of his friends have refused to be inoculated over baseless fears it will kill them within ten years.
Shailesh Patel, 50, who has taken the vaccine, told MailOnline: ‘Some people genuinely believe it is part of a government conspiracy to limit the population and the vaccine will slowly kill them.
‘There are a lot of ethnic minorities living in the same household with multi-generational family members. So if one gets it they all get it.’
Experts say jabs provide protection against the Indian variant, which could be more contagious even if it does not result in a more serious illness.
Mother-of-three Tracey Davis, 55, who was out shopping in the Bolton sunshine today, said she would not be joining the millions of people who have already been safely vaccinated.
‘I think it is part of a government conspiracy so I definitely won’t be taking the vaccine,’ she said.
‘I just do not believe Covid exists. I don’t know anyone who’s had it. I just think it’s all part of a push towards a cashless society.’
Married mother-of-four Edna Anear, 68, said: ‘I am very worried that I will get a blood clot from the vaccine. That is the main reason why I don’t want it, plus I also have a fear of needles.’
Chef Shailesh Patel, 50, who has taken the vaccine, told MailOnline: ‘Some people genuinely believe it is part of a government conspiracy to limit the population’
Alan Walker, 58, who was on his way to get his second vaccine, said: ‘I think these people who are refusing to have it are idiots’
Scientists say that blood clots are rare and the risk of developing a dangerous one is far lower than the risk of being exposed to Covid.
Father-of-four Steven Biggs, 69, said: ‘I have been offered the vaccine but won’t be having it.
‘I have had several letters but I have ignored them. I just not bothered taking it as I don’t think I need it. I rarely go out plus even I did I don’t think it will kill me.’
Packing her shopping into her car, mother-of-three Sara Cartwright, 33, said: ‘I will only take it if I need it to go holiday. I haven’t taken much notice to be honest and most of my family feel the same. I am just not that worried about it.’
However these views were slammed by other Bolton residents, including removals worker Alan Walker, 58, who was on his way to get his second vaccine.
He said: ‘I think these people who are refusing to have it are idiots. My wife is due for her second and my two kids have had it. It makes no sense not to have it.’
Targeted testing for the Indian variant is also taking place in parts of Hackney, east London, after it was identified there. There have been three cases in the area since the start of April.
Positive test figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute – which cover only lab-analysed cases in the two weeks between April 25 and May 8 – reveal the mutant Indian strain made up 50 per cent or more of all samples in 23 parts of the country by last week. Bolton and Blackburn in the North West remain the worst-hit areas with almost 600 cases between them and the variant making up 81 per cent of infections
The places in England where the Indian variant is spreading quickest: Bolton, Blackburn, Sefton, Bedford, South Northamptonshire and Nottingham are seeing the biggest rises
The Indian variant also appears to be edging out the Kent strain in various parts of London, where it already accounts for half of cases or more, but low numbers of infections mean this may an effect caused by small clusters of cases
A heat map of where vaccine uptake is lowest shows that the same areas that have Indian variant cases – the North West, the Midlands and London – also have low vaccine uptake
The borough’s director of public health Dr Sandra Husbands has asked everyone aged 16 and over living in the affected areas to get a Covid-19 PCR test, even if they are symptom-free.
The variants are believed to spread more easily but there is currently no evidence that the variants cause more severe illness, with all of the current Covid-19 vaccines likely to offer good levels of protection against them.
However, some people today were still reluctant to have a jab.
Simone Jackson, 38, who works in media sales in Dalston and lives in Finchley, north London, told MailOnline: ‘I will never have the vaccine. Ever. I’m not a scientist I don’t know what’s in it.’
Mohammad Birou, a 23-year-old grocer from Slough, said: ‘I am not going to get the vaccine at all.
‘You have no idea what might be in it. I would take it if it was compulsory, but I wouldn’t be happy with it. I am concerned about Covid, even the Indian variant.
‘But I wear my mask everywhere I go, I stay away from customers, I wouldn’t want the vaccine. I just don’t know what it’s in it. It’s not for me.’
A Warwick University model of a more infectious variant after lockdown is completely lifted on June 21 suggests that any more than a 30 per cent increase in transmissibility compared to the Kent variant could lead to an August peak of daily hospital admissions that is higher than either the first or second wave
Similar but less grim modelling by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested that a 50 per cent increase in transmissibility could trigger a peak of 4,000 admissions per day in July or August, possibly extending to 6,000 per day
Isaac Martin, a 31-year-old builder from Hackney, said: ‘I’m not interested in the vaccine.
‘It just hasn’t been tested enough. I don’t know when I’ll be asked to get it, but I’m not waiting on them at all. I don’t know anyone that’s had Covid. I haven’t had it, personally. Maybe if I did then maybe I’d feel differently.
‘If you have to get one to go travel, I might end up doing that but I still wouldn’t be lining up first thing.’
Rachel Oteh, 25, from Hackney, said: ‘I’m undecided on whether I want to get the vaccine or not.
‘I might wait for a year and see what happens to the people who have had it.
‘I just don’t trust it yet. It’s too new, it’s not been tested enough, and who knows when another strain will come along that might be worse?’
Some people said they were initially hesitant about getting a vaccine but had agreed in order to travel to see their family.
Patrick Smith, a 44-year-old who works in sales, said: ‘I was hesitant to get one. My problem with it was that it came so quickly when normally these sorts of things take years and years to develop.
‘I think that I had to decide whether to get the vaccine versus the need to travel back to Ireland and to the UK.’
The LSHTM team suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible – which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January
The LSHTM model suggested hospitals could have another 30,000 inpatients by the end of July – up to around 45,000 – compared to the current 845
Ali, 57, who works at an Islington coffee shop, said: ‘I didn’t have a choice but to have a jab.
‘I was very hesitant to get the vaccine, but I had to get one to visit my family in Turkey. They have not been vaccinated but I had to be.’
Scientists note that the Covid vaccines approved in the UK have all gone through medical trials involving hundreds of participants, and that no corners have been cut during the approval process.
There has been irritation at the small number of people refusing to be vaccinated after Matt Hancock yesterday told MPs that most patients hospitalised by the new strain in the epicentre of the outbreak in Bolton had not had a jab.
Last night Tory ministers and MPs told the Prime Minister they would not accept the Covid curbs being extended to protect jab refuseniks.
They urged him to press ahead with the final stage of unlocking next month, even if scientists say the fast-spreading Indian variant poses a risk to the small band of anti-vaxxers.
One Cabinet minister warned that missing the June 21 milestone could become Mr Johnson’s ‘Theresa May moment’ – a reference to her failed Brexit deadline.
‘This freedom date is burned on people’s brains in the same way as her date for leaving the EU,’ the source said. ‘When she missed it, she was finished.’
At the most recent count the Sanger Institute in London, which is analysing the variants in positive tests, found the Indian variant now makes up more than 20 per cent of all cases (light green line in the bottom right), showing it is edging out the Kent variant, now at 78 per cent (purple line at the top)
The source said No 10 had ‘overreacted to panicked warnings from the usual suspects’ in parts of the health establishment.
It comes as Mr Hancock announced that a total of 2,323 cases of the Indian Covid variant have now been found in England – as figures show they have quadrupled in just 10 days and now account for at least one in five infections.
The Health Secretary said in a statement to Parliament that 483 of the cases were in Bolton and Blackburn and it was now dominant there, with cases rising in all age groups as they battle to stem a tide of cases.
Experts say the variant will within days become the dominant strain in the UK, having seen a rise in cases of more than 75 per cent since Thursday.
The government also faces intense pressure to explain why there was a delay in adding India to the red list of countries, while neighbouring Pakistan had been placed on it days before.
The 23 areas of England where the Indian variant is ALREADY overtaking Kent strain as it’s revealed Covid mutant has now reached 40% of England’s local authorities – so how many cases have been recorded in your area?
By Luke Andrews and James Tapsfield for MailOnline
The Indian Covid variant has already overtaken the Kent strain in 23 English local authorities and has spread to 40 per cent of the country, positive test data revealed today as Boris Johnson desperately tried to play down fears that the June 21 ‘freedom day’ could be ditched because of the strain.
Analysis of samples from people infected with Covid has revealed that by the week ending May 8, the variant accounted for eight in 10 cases in hotspots Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Sefton and Bedford, as well as in Chelmsford in Essex and Croydon in London.
Data suggests it is also dominant – accounting for more than half of all positive tests – in Nottingham, West Lancashire, Stevenage, Oadby and Wigston, South Northamptonshire, Broxbourne, Hillingdon, Brent, Camden, Hounslow, Greenwich, Bromley, Dartford, Sevenoaks, Canterbury, Rushmoor and Hart.
Surge testing began today in Nuneaton in Warwickshire and Bedford – where the variant cases surged 20-fold during April – to try and weed out clusters of infections caused by the new strain.
Despite the worrying development, the Prime Minister stressed that the roadmap out of lockdown is currently unchanged with the government sifting through emerging data about the fast-spreading strain.
But he appeared to shift his language slightly by saying there is not yet ‘conclusive’ evidence that the roadmap will need to be altered and said things would be clearer in a ‘few days’.
‘We are looking at the epidemiology the whole time as it comes in and, at the moment, partly because we have built up such a wall of defences with the vaccination programme, I don’t see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map,’ he said.
‘But we’ve got to be cautious and we are keeping everything under very close observation. We’ll know a lot more in a few days’ time.’
The Department of Health today counted another 2,412 positive tests and seven deaths, with fatalities falling 65 per cent from last Tuesday and cases down 2.5 per cent. Another 106,733 people got first vaccine doses yesterday along with 259,049 second doses, meaning more than 36.8million Britons have had at least one jab and 20.5million are fully vaccinated.
Figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute also revealed the Indian variant had been spotted in 127 English local authorities – or 40 per cent – by May 8, the most recent data, after doubling in a week. Nationally, there have been 2,323 cases of the variant – four times the 520 ten days ago – and the strain now makes up at least one in five of all new infections.
Cabinet ministers met today to try to thrash out a strategy to curb the new variant, with emergency plans that could see local restrictions used to combat hotspots while the rest of the country relaxes.
In an echo of the tiers system brought in last summer, people in the worst-hit areas could be told to stay at home and restaurants and shops forced to close – with stricken businesses handed more grants to keep them afloat.
Mr Johnson today tried to dampen concerns that vaccine hesitancy could prevent the next round of easings going ahead, pointing out that levels of uptake in the UK were very high by international standards. On a visit to a vaccine centre in London, he urged people to ‘get your jab’ when invited by the health service.
But Manchester’s mayor and the hospitality industry reacted with anger at the idea, insisting it had not worked last time and would cripple thousands of businesses.
There are also growing doubts about whether lockdown will be lifted across England on June 21. Just a week ago Mr Johnson was holding out the prospect of a broad lifting of legal constraints and social distancing, but it now appears that a review of the rules is unlikely to report this month.
Members of the public in Bolton are pictured queueing for coronavirus vaccines after local health chiefs did away with NHS guidance and said any adult could get a jab – the Government has asked the council and NHS not to break from national policy