Among under-18s, vaccine uptake is low, and there is a growing issue with misinformation spread on social media and at school. Is there anything a concerned caregiver can do?
Throughout the pandemic, Anna has worked for the NHS. She has seen the effects of Covid-19 first-hand and, although she worked remotely because she was in a vulnerable group, other colleagues – she is a physiotherapist – were deployed to Covid wards at the height of hospital admissions. “At the trust I work for, they’re setting up a long-Covid service,” she says. She comes home and her son Sam, 16, listens to her talk about it – and yet he is adamant that the coronavirus isn’t happening or that, if it is, it’s not serious. “You know: ‘Covid is a load of rubbish – it’s all about control’,” she says. “It’s all very conspiracy theory, a lot of his stuff.” He was adamant from the start that he wouldn’t be having the vaccine if and when it became available for his age group, and he has stuck to it. “He is very resistant,” says Anna. “He is pretty determined not to conform anyway. Part of it, I think, is him being a teenager, and the other bit of it is conspiracy theory: ‘It’s all a big con.’” His main source of information since the start of the pandemic has been social media, says Anna. “He watches a lot of YouTube.”
Just over a month ago, YouTube announced it would remove videos that spread misinformation about all vaccines, and would ban the accounts of anti-vax activists; it had already banned content with false claims about Covid vaccines last year. Facebook did the same in February this year, though a quick search reveals misinformation is still easy to find (one post I found within minutes claimed 80% of vaccinated women had miscarriages). On TikTok, “unvaxxed” content racks up hundreds of thousands of views. Last month, NewsGuard, an organisation that rates the credibility of news organisations and monitors misinformation, found Covid conspiracy theories were being viewed by millions on TikTok, and, in its research, children under 13 – the lower age limit – were able to access the app.