What do we do When an MP Spreads Dangerous Misinformation About Covid-19 Vaccines?

person holding test tubes

Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, lost the Conservative Whip on Wednesday after posting a tweet that compared the widespread distribution of Covid vaccines to the Holocaust. The tweet has since been deleted. It linked to an article purporting to show damage caused by vaccines and said:

As one consultant cardiologist said to me, this is the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust. 

Bridgen has been spreading dangerous misinformation about Covid vaccines for a while now. However, he was rightly deemed to have crossed a line by comparing the jabs, which have saved lives and prevented severe disease for millions, to the systematic murder of over 6 million Jews. The use of such language is obviously grotesque and deeply offensive, as the CEO of the Holocaust Educational Trust Karen Pollock explained:

The Conservative Whips swiftly took action and he now has to sit as an independent. (As BBC News noted, Bridgen is currently suspended from the Commons for five days after breaking rules around registering financial interests.) There will be a formal investigation and Chief Whip Simon Hart said in a statement:

As a nation we should be very proud of what has been achieved through the vaccine programme. The vaccine is the best defence against Covid that we have. Misinformation about the vaccine causes harm and costs lives.

Misinformation Continues

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the matter. Wild conspiracists don’t just go away quietly when you call them out, especially when they have over 83,000 followers on Twitter and a seat in the House of Commons. Indeed, they and their supporters often see a mainstream backlash as vindication. It can help them become a martyr amongst fellow believers. Dissapointingly it also appears that, despite the fury at Bridgen’s comments from many in the Conservative Party, some of his colleagues still want to back him. (Heather Wheeler MP did condemn the comparison to the Holocaust.)

What’s The Answer?

There is then no simple solution. Bridgen’s invocation of the Holocaust makes it impossible for him to remain as a Conservative MP. I suspect/hope he will not have the Whip restored and will not be allowed to stand for the party at the next election either. Yet he still has his platform in Parliament until then and on social media for as long as his accounts are deemed not to have broken platform guidelines. Sadly, enough people who, for whatever reason, believe Covid and other vaccines are damaging will always find ways to spread their dangerous misinformation. There are sites and social media accounts dedicated to doing so. The way they project their message is highly emotive, scary and enticing. This can be true even if we know all the indications are in favour of being vaccinated, as epidemiologist Meaghan Kall clearly outlines in the Twitter thread below:

There will always be holdouts, but making more information available in such an honest and accessible manner can go someway to countering the likes of Bridgen.

There is obviously a media issue here too. As I note in the chapter about anti-vax conspiracies in my book “Not Buying It”, much of the original reporting of Andrew Wakefield’s bogus work on the MMR vaccine and its link to autism was hyperbolic and helped spread his fake news. The levels of vaccination collapsed for a time and cases of measles rose. Happily, key mainstream media outlets in the UK were hugely supportive of the Covid vaccination campaign. Hopefully, that will continue, but it may not be quite enough to drown out the nonsense spread by Bridgen and the minority who continue to try to frighten and mislead people.

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