A third of Britons have said they are either unsure or definitely wouldn’t use a vaccine for coronavirus, a poll suggests.
The survey, conducted on behalf of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), coincides with the release of a report by the same group into the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation online.
Members of the public who relied on social media more than traditional platforms for information were less likely to say they would get vaccinated, the poll suggests.
The survey spoke to 1,663 people in Britain, with 6% saying they definitely wouldn’t get vaccinated.
A further 10% said they would “probably not” while another 15% said they did not know, taking the numbers of those who may not get vaccinated against the deadly disease up to almost a third of those surveyed.
A total of 69% were likely to use a vaccine after 38% said they “definitely” would and another 31% declared they “probably” would.
With scientists predicting that more than three-quarters of the population would need to be vaccinated in order to have success in suppressing coronavirus, the findings could represent a threat to the ability to contain COVID-19.
CCDH said its polling results come amid a dramatic rise in the popularity of anti-vaccine social media pages and channels, with 7.7 million more social media users following such accounts since the outbreak of coronavirus.
The research group’s poll was carried out by YouGov between 24 and 25 June.
The UK lost its measles-free status last year due to experiencing a fall in the number of parents ensuring their children were vaccinated.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the time that the UK was “suddenly going in the wrong direction” and that “people have been listening to that superstitious mumbo jumbo on the internet, all that anti-vaxx stuff”.
In its new report, titled The Anti-Vaxx Industry, the CCDH suggests the total following for anti-vaxx advocates and groups online is up to 57 million across both the US and UK.
It analysed more than 400 anti-vaxx Facebook groups and pages, YouTube channels, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
The study found they were publishing false conspiracy theories, including that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had created the coronavirus pandemic, that vaccines cause COVID-19, and that tests for the coronavirus vaccine had caused women to become infertile.
CCDH said its research indicated that social media companies had chosen to adopt lenient policies on anti-vaccine content, with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube promising only to reduce the ease with which users could find the content, but refusing to remove pages or groups which promoted it.
Imran Ahmed, chief executive of CCDH, said: “Our hope for a return to normal life rests with scientists developing a successful vaccine for coronavirus.
“But social media companies’ irresponsible decision to continue to publish anti-vaccine propaganda means a vaccine may not be effective in containing the virus.”
Jo Stevens, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said: “This poll lays bare just how dangerous disinformation online can be.
“The rapid spread of false information about vaccinations could literally be a question of life and death.
“Social media companies must ensure this content has no place on their platforms and ministers must do more to promote the benefits of vaccines and counter the harmful, dangerous myths which surround them before a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.”
A Facebook spokeswoman said: “We are working to stop harmful misinformation from spreading on our platforms and have removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of COVID-19-related misinformation.
“We reduce vaccine misinformation in News Feed, we don’t show it in search results or recommend it to you on Facebook or Instagram, we don’t allow it in ads, and we connect people with authoritative information from recognised health experts.”
A government spokesman added: “The science is clear – vaccines save lives, which is why we are leading a global effort to find a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Vaccine misinformation in any form is completely unacceptable and it is everyone’s responsibility to seek NHS advice, so that they have the right information to make the right choice.”