Anti-vaccine high priests poisoning a generation: An ex-nurse who backs show trials of medics, an ex-sports presenter who says Royals are lizard people and Jeremy Corbyn's brother... all campaigning to stop millions of youngsters getting Covid jab
- Nearly one third of young adults in England are yet to get a first dose of Covid jab
- Professor Angus Dalgleish warned against 'bogus information on social media'
- Piers Corbyn has led anti-vaxxers in Brighton and called those giving jabs 'scum'
- While David Icke's social media were deleted as he posted Covid misinformation
There is a worrying Zeitgeist among twentysomethings in the Essex seaside town of Clacton.
Abby Brady, a bar worker, tells the Mail: 'I don't plan to have the vaccine.
'If you're going to get Covid, you're going to get it. It's about human rights.'
The 25-year-old has been following the news and social media on the subject. 'Kate Shemirani, is brilliant,' she says.
'She's a nurse in the NHS. And David Icke, he's a scientist. And Piers Corbyn, he's Jeremy Corbyn's brother.'
We will examine the 'credentials' of the undeniably influential Shemirani, Icke and Corbyn later.
But what of Abby's younger sister, Chloe? She too has a job which brings her into contact with hundreds of people every day — in a busy fish and chip shop — but says she's not going to get a Covid-19 vaccination either.
'A lot of people have had bad side-effects,' she explains. 'I'm following this person on Instagram. She had her second vaccine on June 29 and now she's learning to walk again.
Kate Shemirani compared NHS staff to doctors in Nazi Germany as she spoke to a rally in Trafalgar Square protesting against the vaccination programme
'They say there's a 90 odd per cent survival rate [with Covid] so if you're going to catch it you're probably going to be all right. My mother-in-law is listening to a lot of podcasts and she's given me a lot of information. There's just not enough long-term evidence [about potential side-effects].
'In five years what are we going to be looking like if we've all been vaccinated?' This so-called 'anti-vaxxer' scepticism is not confined to the Brady family.
Nor even to Clacton. Alarmingly, it is to be found across the United Kingdom — and in the very age group that is largely fuelling the transmission of the virus.
The vaccination roll-out in the UK has been a resounding success. The percentages for inoculation among the elderly and middle-aged are among the highest in the world.
But the latest NHS figures suggest there is a significant minority of a section of the population which is reluctant to protect itself — and by extension the rest of us — against the pandemic.
After a brisk start, the demand for a first vaccination among young adults has, in some areas, 'plummeted'. This is in contrast to countries such as France, where rates in the same age group are rising.
Nearly one third of young adults in England have yet to receive a first dose that has been available to them since June 18. NHS England estimates that approximately 2.7 million adults under the age of 30 have yet to get a jab.
Young men are more likely to go unvaccinated than women. Only 62.2 per cent of males in the 18-24 age group have received at least one vaccination.
And there are, reportedly, nine local authorities in England in which less than half of 18 to 24-year-olds are estimated to have received a first dose of vaccine.
This reluctance to be vaccinated threatens the UK's achievement of herd immunity against the virus, according to Covid-modelling expert Professor Karl Friston of University College London.
One could understand the phenomenon if the Oxford/AstraZeneca was the only vaccine on offer.
After all, it was found that in a minutely small number of cases — 242 out of 28.5 million doses administered in the UK by late spring — the vaccine was linked to potentially fatal blood clots in younger people.
But since early May, under-40s have been offered alternatives such as Pfizer and Moderna. The risk of the blood clot side-effect is no longer a reason to forgo protection against Covid. The causes lie elsewhere. And they have to be addressed, fast.
This month, Piers Corbyn (pictured) led a crowd of anti-vaxxers in Brighton who forced a vaccination centre to suspend operations. He called those administering the jabs 'scum'
On these pages last week, Professor Angus Dalgleish gave this warning: 'The backlash against Covid vaccines among young people is the most dangerous medical misunderstanding of our times.
'Fuelled by bogus information on social media, it is not only putting hundreds of thousands of young lives at risk but threatening the entire country's recovery from the pandemic.'
He added: 'Half the country think it's no longer necessary to spend seven years at medical school to become an expert. People use the jargon of epidemiology and genetics as easily as they used to discuss last night's new TikTok sensation.'
So where is this bogus information coming from? A good place to start looking was in Trafalgar Square last weekend.
Thousands of anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protesters gathered there for what organisers called the Worldwide Rally For Freedom.
The headline speakers confirmed that those who have made long, if not distinguished, careers from promoting various outlandish conspiracy theories have now joined together on the anti-vax bandwagon.
This coalition of diverse conspiracy theorists is being described as 'fusion paranoia'.
So it was that David Icke shared a platform with Piers Corbyn. Former TV sports presenter Icke has, of course, become a byword for lunatic and bizarre beliefs.
He is a self-proclaimed 'Son of the Godhead', a Holocaust and climate change denier who believes the Royal Family are lizards, 9/11 was an 'inside job' and that a secret Babylonian Brotherhood is trying to take over the world and turn it into one 'fascist state'.
Last year Icke's YouTube and Facebook pages and Twitter account were deleted because he repeatedly posted dangerous misinformation about the pandemic, which he describes as a 'nonsense' perpetrated by government to enslave the people.
He has repeatedly claimed Covid-19 is linked to the 5G mobile phone network. Corbyn is a fellow climate change sceptic, who also believes the pandemic is a 'hoax' and claims the Government wants to impose a 'new world order' through lockdown. This will include injecting people with microchips.
Last summer he became one of the first people to receive a £10,000 fixed penalty under new coronavirus laws restricting public gatherings of more than 30 people.
He has been at the forefront of protests outside hospitals where, at the height of the second wave, exhausted doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff had to run the gauntlet of anti-vax protesters even as they battled to save lives.
This month, Corbyn led a crowd of anti-vaxxers in Brighton who forced a vaccination centre to suspend operations. He called those administering the jabs 'scum'.
Icke and Corbyn were joined by several other prominent Covid-deniers including GP Dr Vernon Coleman, 75, who once reportedly called Aids 'the hoax of the century'; 'the Poo Lady' and 'nutritional expert', TV presenter Gillian McKeith (who was forced by the Advertising Standards Authority to stop calling herself 'Dr McKeith'), and Right-wing provocateur and ex-Apprentice 'star' Katie Hopkins, who had just been deported from Australia after threatening to break Covid rules.
But the speaker who grabbed most headlines — and by doing so attracted police attention — was the aforementioned Shemirani.
She was indeed, briefly, an NHS nurse. But last month she was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for spreading Covid misinformation.
In Trafalgar Square she took her anti-vax rhetoric to a new level, instructing the crowd to email to her the names of her former colleagues involved in the vaccination programme.
'With a group of lawyers, we are collecting all that,' she said. 'At the Nuremburg Trials the doctors and nurses stood trial and they hung. If you are a doctor or a nurse, now is the time to get off that bus . . . and stand with us the people.'
A barely disguised threat. And a suggestion that NHS workers on the Covid frontline were no better than Nazis. (Her estranged son, Sebastian Shemirani, later roundly condemned his mother's actions in an interview on Radio 4's Today programme).
But who were the people who had come to hear this nonsense?
The flags and banners displayed by the crowd were both instructive and perplexing.
One said 'Trump 2024' — a reminder that anti-vax is not solely a British phenomenon but also a position of the QAnon conspiracy theorists and others in the American 'alt right' whose adherents stormed the Capitol in Washington earlier this year.
Despite a Covid death toll of more than 600,000, there are 19 U.S. states with a vaccination rate of only 45 per cent or below. Only 34 per cent of Mississippi has been dosed.
Another placard proclaimed 'Free Palestine' — an example of the conflation of polarising causes. There was even the flag of L'Manburg, a 'country' which only exists in video game Minecraft.
Bearing his own placard with an anti-vax slogan was the rapper and club promoter Remeece. He could be described as the musical wing of the movement. One of his tracks, which can be bought online, is called Don't Tek Di Vaccine.
Last year David Icke's (pictured) YouTube and Facebook pages and Twitter account were deleted because he repeatedly posted dangerous misinformation about the pandemic
Its second verse proclaims: 'Pfizer, Moderna you tools, you fools/My body my temple, my choice, my rules/Parents start removing your kids from school/Satanic race dem waah create from youz/Only vaccine a vegetables and fruits/Fresh air, fresh ginger, fresh orange, fresh roots.'
The chorus goes: 'Mama, mama, don't tek di vaccine/Papa, papa don't tek di vaccine.' The message is clear. Remeece has a website on which you can read his views on how global governments are in conspiracy over the pandemic and the number of deaths caused by vaccination has been suppressed.
As the leading figure in a group calling itself Footsoldiers4Freedom — the name of another of his tracks — Remeece has been involved in more dubious activities aimed at indoctrinating schoolchildren.
Earlier this summer the group was present outside schools in London and Greater Manchester, handing out leaflets instructing children to 'discard your mask' and playing anti-vax songs.
In one film on social media, Remeece is reportedly seen approaching children as they leave a Covid test centre, to tell them that the test kits contain chemicals linked to cancer.
Piers Corbyn has appeared in two of his music videos; an unlikely alliance, but then the anti-vax movement is a broad church of eccentrics and radicals. And it is having some success.
On Thursday the Mail conducted vox pops among young adults in towns and cities across England. The majority had been vaccinated — but there was a significant minority of refuseniks.
Clacton is in the Tendring local authority district, where a third of young adults have yet to be jabbed. One of the town's wards, Jaywick, has been measured on a number of occasions to be one of the most deprived in England.
Olivia Buckland, a 20-year-old support worker, said: 'I just don't want to be forced into having the jab because of my job. If it comes to it, I will leave my job [rather than have the vaccine]. I am too young to have it.
'I know quite a few people who have been ill from it [the vaccine]. One of my friends lost the sense in her legs and had to learn to walk again. Her Snapchat video went viral. Her blood vessels burst and she couldn't walk. There are so many videos on the internet of people shaking after the vax.'
Professor Angus Dalgleish warned against misinformation fuelled by 'bogus information on social media'. Pictured: Anti-vaccination protesters outside a temporary vaccination centre at the Essa academy in Bolton in May
Funfair worker Ellie Young, 18, told the Mail: 'There's not a lot of research [around the vaccine].
'It's scary. My mum is one of those paranoid people. She's told me I might not be able to get pregnant if I have the vaccine. A lot of it comes from there — TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat. On Snapchat everyone is seeing things like people with seizures and arms falling off but you get all the fake news.
'People on TikTok who've had the vaccine are foaming at the mouth. People are putting magnets on their arms [to show] the jabs have made them magnetic. I don't believe it but it's still a bit scary.'
Chris Warren, 28, who works as a caterer in Bristol, said he believed the pandemic was part of a 'global reset' where those with power and wealth are trying to concentrate even more of it in their hands as a means of controlling the masses.
He added: 'When all this started I wasn't sure. I wasn't convinced this was the killer we were being told it was. As time went on I began to find a voice which matches mine on social media. Look at the data. The average age of a Covid victim is 80.
'So why do I need to worry? Why do I need a jab? It is shameful the way I am being vilified as utterly irresponsible and selfish [an accusation made by Michael Gove] for thinking that though.'
He added: 'Goebbels would never have believed how easy it is to manipulate the mainstream news agenda the way it has been by this government over Covid.'
In Newcastle, local authority attempts to reach the unvaccinated have been met with hostility. Vaccine coordinator Marina Melrose told BBC Radio 4 this week that there was a big problem with the uptake of 25 to 30-year-olds.
'It's a lot to do with peer pressure, social media,' she said. 'They think we're trying to poison them. We have people walking past saying we are murdering people. I've been called a psychopath.'
Certainly, social media is able to bypass the traditional sources of teaching and expertise.
An influencer who might have left school at 16 without academic qualifications can use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to 'tutor' their followers in matters of far more consequence to society than music, fashion or holiday destinations.
Or at least to retweet Icke, Corbyn or Shemirani. And there is no doubt that a significant section of the young are vulnerable to such guff.
A poll last year conducted among young Australians found that one in five believed Microsoft founder Bill Gates had played a role in the creation and spread of Covid, and that 5G was involved in the transmission of the virus.
Chloe Colliver, head of digital policy at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, has been researching why young people are drawn to anti-lockdown and anti-vax beliefs.
'It seems to be for the same reasons any of us buy in to a conspiracy,' she says. 'We want answers and certainty in a climate where there isn't necessarily any.
'There is also the attraction of thinking you are in on a secret.
'Sadly those who were just curious and unsure have been led down a rabbit hole where they are exposed to far more sinister and extremist material.
'It is only a short step from being opposed to a vaccination thanks to disinformation on social media to being drawn to white supremacist or Islamic fundamentalist propaganda.'