Revealed: More than 5 million 'anti-vax' followers in UK as leaders spread distrust about Covid vaccine

Claims made by anti-vaccination groups are unfounded. Credit: PA

The scale of the misinformation campaign to spread distrust in a Covid-19 vaccine has been revealed in a new report.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate gained access to a private anti-vaxxers' conference, finding groups were intent on recruiting new members and undermining facts about the jab.

The claims made by anti-vaccination groups are unfounded, with any potential Covid-19 vaccine undergoing rigorous testing before getting approval from regulators.

A patient receives the first of two injections with a dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Leading figures in the anti-vaccination movement - based on unfounded claims - have outlined three objectives to spread to the public:

  • That Covid "is not dangerous"

  • That vaccines "are dangerous"

  • That experts "cannot be trusted"

All three claims are unsupported by facts.

Access to the conference found anti-vaxx groups have seized the Covid pandemic as "a historic opportunity" to further their cause and create long-lasting distrust in vaccinations.

Current vaccines will still prevent people from contracting the new strain. Credit: Jacob King/PA

More worrying still, the Center for Countering Digital Hate estimates such beliefs already have a following of 5.4 million people in the UK.

Tactics outlined by those involved in the misinformation campaign include the use of private Facebook groups to train members in identifying friends and family members who are "vaccine hesitant" - and persuading them to the anti-vaxx cause.

Despite a government pledge earlier this year to tackle the issue on social media, only one of 27 major UK anti-vaccination accounts has been removed.

ITV News' exclusive report into anti-vaccination misinformation reveals the scale of the problem.

It has also been revealed anti-vax groups are targeting ethnic minority people - who are at greater risk of Covid - to dissuade them from taking the vaccine.

The campaigns are becoming increasingly adept at avoiding censorship on social media - publishing a wide variety of messages, to suit as wide an audience as possible.

Jennifer Nuzzo, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the report offered "a chlling look" into the anti-wax community.

Anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protests have been a common occurence during the pandemic. Credit: PA

The Center for Countering Digital Hate has encouraged the public to reject misinformation seen online, and called on social media platforms to do more to remove content.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said: "Anti-vaxxers view the Covid vaccine as an opportunity to create long-lasting distrust in the effectiveness, safety, and necessity for vaccination.

"Unless urgent action is taken, they may succeed."