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Coronavirus: Is vaccine scepticism the next hurdle to overcome in the fight against COVID-19?

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By Meabh McMahon
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A volunteer receives an injection, as part of Africa's first participation in COVID-19 vaccine trials, June 24, 2020.
A volunteer receives an injection, as part of Africa's first participation in COVID-19 vaccine trials, June 24, 2020.   -   Copyright  Siphiwe Sibeko/AP
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After a slate of successful COVID-19 vaccine trials being announced in recent weeks, governments could be forgiven for declaring a minor victory in the fight against the deadly virus.

But their biggest challenge now could be convincing the general public to actually be inoculated, as a rise in vaccine scepticism has been witnessed globally, fed through general distrust in institutions and the proliferation of fake news online.

A recent study on 'Global attitudes on a COVID-19 vaccine' by pollster Ipsos, found that just over one-half of adults in France (54%) expressed their intention to get vaccinated against the virus, the lowest figure of any country asked.

"It's understandable because it's a new disease really," said Professor Luke O'Neill, an immunologist from Trinity College Dublin. "Vaccines make people anxious anyway because sticking a needle in a baby's arm makes people nervous.

"Then we have the horrendousness of social media that is selling fake news, but the truth is, vaccines are extremely safe. Every health agency in the world says to use them.

"So it is a strange debate. It's our job to inform people. Vaccines are the biggest contribution to medicine. They are fantastic."

The Belgian government wants to vaccinate 70% of the population free of charge, but they might also struggle to reach this number, with some Brussels residents telling Euronews that the virus "does not exist" and that they would not trust it because they "don't know what the side effects might be".

But it's not all doom and gloom. Other people in the Belgian capital said they would take it and the Ipsos study backs this up, with 73% from all the countries surveyed globally, agreeing that they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if it was available.

The European Commission hopes so too. Since launching their vaccine strategy in June, they have pumped millions into research and development. Once approved, they hope for quick deployment of hundreds of millions of doses across Europe.

"The big news is these vaccines, obviously, will help us achieve that normal life again, no question," added Prof O'Neill.

"There is the question of how long they will take to roll out, get it to the people, vaccine hesitancy, and all those issues come up, but I would be optimistic that by next summer, things will go somewhat back to the way they were, but we will still have to wear masks and continue with a bit of distancing."

But with research showing that vaccine scepticism is high in many European countries, especially France and Eastern Europe, scientists and EU governments alike will have to make a clear, convincing pitch to break through all the noise and political pull.