Health minister Matt Hancock has today refused to rule out making a coronavirus vaccine mandatory, in a statement that is sure to spark concern among anti-vax conspiracy theorists.
Asked whether the Government was considering making the injection compulsory, Hancock told talkRADIO: "Well it's complex because there are some people who for medical reasons can't have a vaccine. It's a complex question."
He continued: "Of course I want as many people as possible to take it, and we won't be allowing it, we won't be regulating it…. until it is both effective, which we know with the Biontech-Pfizer one, and safe.
"The safety is critical as well," he added.
There are increasing concerns in government at the increase in anti-vaccine propaganda, much of which is spread through social media.
But Hancock said he "hoped" a large proportion of the population will take the vaccine.
"We're not proposing at this stage making it mandatory," he stressed.
But, when pressed asked whether he was categorically ruling out compulsory vaccinations, Hancock said: "Honestly I've learnt not to rule things out during this pandemic because we have to watch what happens and you have to make judgments accordingly."
In another interview this morning, Hancock told Times Radio that he had no time for healthcare workers who were spreading anti-vaccination messages online.
"Being opposed to vaccinations where they have been through the rigorous safety processes is entirely inappropriate," he said.
"And I wouldn't advise it for anybody, because we don't propose and allow vaccines in this country unless they pass some of the most stringent safety requirements in the world.
"Getting a vaccine – whether it's for flu or hopefully for coronavirus – is something that not only protects you but protects the people around you. So it's a really important step."
Professor Melinda Mills, the director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford, said anti-vaccination groups were becoming increasingly skilled at getting their message across.
"This information can be really damaging, and it's clever how they spread it through memes and memorable things," she said.
"These groups are very skilled. They feed on fear, that little grain of truth and they amplify it.
British scientists are saying reports of a coronavirus vaccine developed in the US may prevent 94.5% of people from getting Covid are "tremendously exciting".
Hancock today said the UK is gearing up to start distributing Pfizer's rival vaccine, said to be 90% effective, from December 1.
He also announced the Government has secured an initial agreement for 5million doses of the Moderna vaccine.
He told a Downing Street press conference if it proves safe, the doses would be available from spring next year.
The 5million doses would be just enough for 2.5million people, as it requires two shots.
Early data from US firm Moderna has claimed a 94.5% effectiveness against coronavirus for the vaccine.
Hancock described the preliminary results for the coronavirus vaccine as "excellent news".
He added: “Although I stress that this is preliminary, the safety data is limited and their production facilities are not yet at scale.
“We have today secured an initial agreement for 5million doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“Across diagnostics and vaccines great advances in medical science are coming to the science.
“While there is much uncertainty, we can see the candle of hope and we must do all that we can to nurture its flame.
“But we’re not there yet.”