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The Duke of Cambridge has warned that social media is “awash with rumours and misinformation” about coronavirus vaccines as he sought to bolster his grandmother’s message of support for the jab.
He said that vaccinations were “really, really important” and highlighted the need to keep the take-up high among younger generations.
The Duke and Duchess took part in a video call with two clinically vulnerable women who have been shielding with their families since last March, the latest in a string of royal engagements focused on the vaccine campaign.
Last week, the Queen made a rare personal comment on the nationwide rollout, suggesting that those who refuse the vaccine "ought to think about other people rather than themselves".
Her Majesty, 94, said it was important that people were "protected" by the vaccine, revealing that hers was "very quick” and “didn't hurt at all."
The Royal Family's engagement with the programme comes after the Queen declared last March, just before the first lockdown: "You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part."
The Duke and Duchess were chatting to Shivali Modha, 39, who has type 2 diabetes, and Fiona Doyle, 37, who has severe asthma, both of whom are now eligible for the vaccine as part of Priority Group 6.
Mrs Modha, a mother-of-two from Barnet, north London, admitted she had been anxious about the vaccine after reading things on social media but had since been reassured by family members who have already received it, as well as medics and the charity Diabetes UK.
The Duke told her: “Catherine and I are not medical experts by any means but if it’s any consolation, we can wholeheartedly support having vaccinations. It’s really really important.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of people about it and the uptake has been amazing so far. We’ve got to keep it going so the younger generations also feel that it’s really important for them to have it.”
He praised Mrs Modha for concluding that she needed the vaccine, adding: “Social media is awash sometimes with lots of rumours and misinformation so we have to be a bit careful who we believe and where we get our information from.
“Especially for those who are clinically vulnerable as well, it’s so important that those vaccinations are done, so good luck.”
The Duchess told her: “I hope it comes as a huge relief in the end. I know there’s maybe the anxiety and the worry leading up to it, but I hope for all of you it will add a bit of normality back to your lives and confidence as well as we go forward into the Spring, that would be great.”
The call came as it emerged that the UK’s leading health charities, including Diabetes UK and Asthma UK, have formed a coalition to promote vaccine uptake among people with long-term health conditions.
Overall vaccine confidence is high, with 92 per cent having accepted or planning to accept a jab. But the rollout has been beset by hesitancy, largely among the black community, of whom just 72 per cent are willing to have the jab.
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, revealed last week that the government rollout was fighting against a "tsunami" of misinformation. He warned that the level of disinformation had become "quite sophisticated" and "huge in volume".
The Cabinet Office has set up a rapid response Cross-Whitehall Counter Disinformation Unit, which is working with social media platforms to quickly remove anti-vaccine conspiracy theories before they spread.
And on Friday, the Government launched a campaign encouraging ethnic minority groups to be vaccinated through dozens of multicultural publications, radio and television stations which report and broadcast in 14 languages.