United Kingdom

MATT HANCOCK: In all my time, I have never come across a group so dangerous as anti-vaxxers

Schools closed, hospitals nearing their capacity, people stuck at home and thousands sadly dying each day. This was the shocking reality of the global Covid pandemic we faced in 2020.

This year, though, is different. Our freedom, our way of life, is being restored. People are slowly and carefully regaining the confidence to reclaim their lives. We are learning to live with Covid.

While of course we need to be vigilant, we can start restoring what makes life worth living. Families are once again able to reunite with their loved ones. Weddings, christenings and family celebrations are back on. Businesses can open up again with more confidence. In fact, by some measures, Britain has the fastest economic recovery of all the major Western nations.

The reason we can do this and, in truth, the only real difference between this year and last, are the vaccines. Almost 90 per cent of those over 16 have had one dose. More than four in five have had two doses.

Matt Hancock is pictured leaving 10 Downing Street on September 16, 2020

I'm incredibly grateful to each and every person who got the jab because they have played their part and made Covid so much easier to manage. And the new booster jabs will help protect the over-50s and the vulnerable yet more.

However, almost unbelievably, there is still a persistent yet thankfully small and shrinking group of people determined to try to stop this progress. In all my time in public life, I have never come across a group so blinkered and dangerous as the anti-vaxxers.

And while almost nine in ten people have had the jab, that still leaves one in ten who haven't. A small number of these have medical reasons for why they can't be jabbed and must be supported. But the overwhelming majority can.

Yet we know that the more people get jabbed, the less likely the virus is to spread, the more the NHS is protected, and the easier it is to open up our society and economy. Getting the jab isn't just about protecting yourself, but about protecting others. It's not just about you, it is a social and moral obligation.

This country was the first to mass vaccinate and has enough vaccines to make not two but three available to all.

I understand that some people are hesitant. It's ok to be unsure and ask questions. But vaccinations have been available to all adults for months now. The evidence that they work is overwhelming.

More than three billion people have had the jab worldwide. A huge proportion of them have had our own home-grown Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, made available at cost. Almost 50 million people here have had at least one jab.

The result of this colossal effort is that we know the jabs are safe. In the UK, we have put a huge effort into tracking every side effect, and every time a jab has caused a problem. Experts at Public Health England have followed up with intensive research and the experienced team at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency have carefully recorded and published all the data there is.

So we know the impact the vaccines have.

Protesters march through Manchester on a world-wide-march. The protesters stormed the Arndale Shopping Centre on Saturday

Yes, you can get a sore arm or a headache for a day or two. But more serious side effects are very rare indeed. They don't affect fertility, they don't insert tracking devices in your blood, and no, it's not a conspiracy masterminded by some sort of all-powerful lizard-men.

On the contrary, the Covid vaccines rollout is one of the most intensively researched, clinically led, carefully monitored programmes any Government has ever embarked on, alongside the wonderful NHS teams across the UK.

When someone has questions, maybe because they have seen misleading material on social media, let's answer those questions with science and respond to hesitancy with reassuring facts.

Unless you have a medical condition, there's simply no excuse to stay one of the unjabbed. You're putting the health of the nation at risk. How can it be right that people who have refused the jab put such a burden on the NHS?

The evidence is clear. The vaccines protect you, with about 112,000 deaths prevented because of the vaccines. We now also know that they protect those around you, with 24 million UK Covid cases being averted. And even if you are one of the unlucky ones and catch Covid after you've been jabbed, the chances are that the effects will be much less serious.

The people I reserve my vitriol for are those who promote anti-vax lies. I find it hard to believe, but it's a shocking fact that there is a small number of aggressive, noisy, threatening people who think it is right and fair to try to stop others from getting vaccinated.

Pictured: A man wearing an anti-Covid pass message on a T-shirt demonstrates outside of Parliament on September 8, 2021

The lengths to which these people will go are extraordinary. They pump out scaremongering material and videos, with discredited arguments. They try to play on people's fear of the unknown. They create conspiracies and spread misinformation. They've even sent me death threats just because I played a prominent part in the vaccines rollout.

Thankfully, they are losing the argument. The overwhelming number of people who've had the jab is testament to that.

The UK media – and in particular The Mail on Sunday – has been brilliant in helping our top doctors communicate what's right.

I applaud those who have come forward to get their jab in a very public way. Whether Sir Elton John, David Walliams or Gareth Southgate, so many celebrities have stood up to help in our national effort. I especially want to thank the footballers at Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have led the way in their community.

Let's encourage everyone to look at the science, think about the people they're close to, and do the right thing and get the jab.

For every hesitant person who has been taken in by the lies of the anti-vaxxers, far more have been persuaded by the clear objective facts published by the medics.

The best way we can all protect our future, protect our loved ones, and beat these miserable anti- scientific gloomsters is really simple: keep calm, and get vaccinated.

If you know one of the unjabbed, try to persuade them with the truth. After all, the vast majority have done their bit.

I'm so proud of what Brits have done in such huge numbers. I'm proud to see the queues at the vaccine centres. I'm proud of everyone starting to come forward now for their booster shot.

It is on us all to play our part in turning this virus from a pandemic into an endemic.

Every last one of us that takes the vaccines puts the odds firmly in our favour in the race between vaccination and infection.

So let's finish this off. Protect the nation's health and the freedoms we love. Get the jab.

It's right for you, it's right by the science, and, more than that, it is right for your family, community, and country.

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