The Queen has said people who refuse the coronavirus vaccine "ought to think about other people rather than themselves". In her first comments on the subject, Her Majesty said it was important that people were "protected" by the vaccine.
Speaking to the senior responsible officers overseeing the delivery of the vaccine across all four UK nations, she said that her own immunisation, administered at Windsor Castle in January, was “very quick,” adding: “It didn’t hurt at all.”
She added: “Once you've had the vaccine you have a feeling of, you know, you're protected, which is I think very important.
“And I think the other thing is that it is obviously difficult for people if they've never had a vaccine… but they ought to think about other people rather than themselves."
The vaccine rollout has been beset by hesitancy, largely among black ethnic minority communities, of whom just 72 per cent are willing to have the jab.
Nadhim Zahawi, the UK’s Covid-19 vaccine deployment minister said the Government rollout was battling a “tsunami” of vaccine misinformation.
Royal sources said it was the Queen's “passionately held belief” that everyone should take part in the programme.
Her comments were described as an "incredibly important vote of confidence” in the campaign. They are reminiscent of her decision in 1957, to let it be known that Prince Charles and Princess Anne had been given the polio vaccine in order to counter public fears.
The Queen also intervened in the debate over Scottish independence, urging her subjects to “think carefully” before voting in the 2014 referendum.
The Royal Family has taken an increasingly prominent role in publicising the campaign, returning to public engagements for the first time this year in order to visit vaccination hubs and speak to NHS staff and volunteers.
Senior royals are said to be “very engaged” with the programme and aware of the lower rate of vaccine uptake among ethnic minority communities, a concern highlighted by the Prince of Wales, patron of the British Asian Trust, in a webinar last week.
The Queen, speaking in 2020:
A palace source said they had “been encouraged to support (the campaign) and have been very keen to do so".
When she addressed the nation last April, the Queen shared her belief that "if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome" the challenges of Covid-19.
A palace source that since then, she had seen the positive impact of the vaccination programme and remained convinced that society will only overcome the pandemic when individuals and communities come together and play their part.
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.
Mr Zahawi also said it was crucial for those working in social and care settings to be vaccinated to protect the vulnerable after a recent study by the Press Association showed that up to one fifth of some care home staff are refusing the jab.
Overall vaccine confidence is high, with 92 per cent having accepted or planning to accept a jab. However this varies by age, with 99 per cent of those over 80 willing, compared to just 83 per cent of 18-29 year-olds.
Vaccine confidence is also lowest in those of black ethnicity, with just 72 per cent willing to have the jab.
The Government is launching a major campaign encouraging ethnic minority groups to be vaccinated through dozens of multicultural publications, radio and TV stations which report and broadcast in 14 different languages.
Muslim communities will be particularly targeted in the run up to Ramadan amid fears that communities will be unwilling to be vaccinated while fasting.
The Queen’s video call came as her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, 99, spent his seventh full day in hospital on Tuesday, when Buckingham Palace revealed that he was being treated for an infection and was not expected to be discharged for several more days.
Asked what her own experience of the vaccine had been, she chuckled as she told Dr Emily Lawson, chief commercial officer for NHS England: “Well, as far as I can make out it was quite harmless. It was very quick, and I've had lots of letters from people who've been very surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine.
“And the jab… it didn't hurt at all.”
When Derek Grieve, head of the Scottish Government’s vaccinations division, suggested that would like to “bottle this community spirit” harnessed during the rollout, the monarch said: "Wouldn't it be nice.”
She added: "Well, having lived in the war. It's very much like that, you know, when everybody had the same idea. And I think this has rather, sort of, inspired that, hasn't it?"
Her comments echoed those made in her address to the nation last April, when she evoked memories of Britain's Blitz spirit and likened the pain of lockdown to wartime separation, promising: "We will meet again."
During the call, she likened the pandemic to the plague, saying: “It's not only here that we've got the virus but it's everywhere, so it's a strange battle that everybody's actually fighting.”
The Queen said it was “remarkable” how quickly the vaccination programme had been rolled out, telling the NHS chiefs to “keep up the good work".
Her clear backing of the programme, a rare public intervention, came as Mr Zahawi warned that the level of disinformation circulating on social media and messaging platforms had become “quite sophisticated” and “huge in volume".
Speaking in a panel discussion organised by London’s Science Museum, he said: “The best way to deal with it is from hearing from people that you really trust. Community leaders, faith leaders. We can actually empower them and give them the resources and the information to be able to debunk some of this stuff.”
He said the Government had been working with social media platforms since last March, alerting them to examples of disinformation and urging them to quickly remove them.
Dr Lawson later described the Queen's comments about her vaccination experience as an "incredibly important vote of confidence in the programme".
Kemi Badenoch, equalities minister, said: “I urge everyone who is offered one to take the opportunity, to protect themselves, their family, and their community.”