I had to do something.
After a year of war-like rhetoric, waged against an invisible enemy, Covid had killed one in every 200 people over the age of 50. In late December, there was at last a call to arms. All citizens were expected to take, at least, a couple of shots.
Now, baring arms is not just the patriotic, globally responsible thing to do, it massively reduces our own chances of dying… So why are we facing such resistance to the vaccine?
We wage wars so often, perhaps they’re just a fundamental part of being human. They bring out mostly the worst in us, but also, oddly, the best of us. It is, unfortunately, against a background of killing that most of the greatest advances of human civilization have been forged. Although we have only existed a fraction of the time that the dinosaurs lived, we are now pre-eminent as a survival species; so when human lives are in the balance, man’s ingenuity seems boundless. Most of the technologies we now take for granted: computing, space exploration, pain-killers, microwaves, Wi-Fi, antibiotics, GPS, mass air travel, non-stick cookware, were only made possible through a growing pile of corpses inspiring properly-funded science, and individuals, to push themselves and their ideas further.
In this “war” against Covid, we now have hyper-advanced vaccines which, under normal funding schedules, might have taken decades to develop, but have been created, trialled and approved in months.
Nobody declined the use of radar in WWII because it had been “developed too quickly”. Nobody in WWI was hesitant to eat food from a new-fangled ‘tin can’ because there might be mind control substances put in it by the Government.
“But we’re not at war,” the anti-vaxxers argue, “the threat of Covid has been over-hyped. People are dying of their comorbidities but Covid is being blamed. This is not a desperate time, no need for desperate measures.”
But you know it’s war because, clearly, the first casualty has been the truth. The figures speak for themselves. Yes, most people dying have other health issues, but they were not imminently fatal. Covid is not only the accelerant that culls the old and vulnerable; the chronic problems it leaves for many survivors could precipitate a healthcare crisis like no other, far more likely to cripple the NHS than a run on ventilators.
The generation who grew up during WWII could see the parallels and 95% have dutifully taken the vaccine. But as the vaccine’s target cohorts got younger, the more “hesitant” they became. Whole communities that are, generally, marginalised are more likely to believe the social media of peers than the mainstream press. Suspicion abounds. Almost a quarter of people aged 80 and over of Pakistani descent in Bradford, refused the jab.
And they’re not completely wrong, the mainstream media stokes confusion, agitating the political ping-pong with the EU about vaccine availability; with some vaccine-poor countries citing negative trial data in order to manage the expectations of their own populations. On top of that, the pharmaceutical manufacturers themselves, vying for market dominance, are briefing the press against each other.
This has caused perplexity among potential vaccinees who, even if they accept the vaccine as “a good thing”, feel entitled to choose the brand based on the very partial stories they’ve read. As the efficacy of the different brands is still technically moot, the trial data is rarely comparable, and patients delaying their appointments to get the vaccine they fancy is dangerous, there is much to recommend offering the vaccines as blind ‘Standard Issue’; like the weapons assigned in WWII: Lee-Enfield or Remington 8, you took what was available to save your life.
Even in our ‘Information Age’, nobody refuses the flu jab or MMR because it was, or wasn’t, made by the company that produced the blue pills for stiffies.
In WWII, at least the fifth columnists who sowed seeds of doubt had a goal: to see Germany win. But now, doubt is sown for its own sake; the only goal is disruption in that echo chamber of paranoia known as social media. Trust in ‘The Establishment’, represented by a wholly inadequate and venal Government, is in tatters while faith in truth from the press has collapsed thanks to the murk of Murdoch and the reign of ‘fake news’, Disrupter-In-Chief, Donald Trump.
The chasm between those who understand the basic concepts of science, so are able to trust in the development of technologies they don’t fully comprehend, and those who will believe in gossip and rumour, is greater than ever. The flat-earth anti-vaxxer argues that trusting in science which you don’t fully understand is the equivalent of belief in gods/faith/religion. But facts, however obscure, which build on the scientific facts we do understand – checked and peer reviewed – are still facts.
“Science is constantly proved all the time,” Ricky Gervais once said on a chat show. “If we take any holy book and destroy it, in a thousand years’ time, it wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book, and every fact, and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would [produce] the same result.”
These are indeed desperate times and this may not be a conventional war, the enemy may not be other humans, but we have the bodies mounting up, we have the truth being sapped away, and now we have the arms.
I had to do something. Even if it was just to avoid that awkward “What did you do in the great Covid Outbreak Daddy?”
I signed up to the front line. And instead of spending my lockdown blissfully finalising my latest hilarious novel (previous ones available here) I did battle with the NHS gatekeepers, the most ferocious of which were the endless Mandatory Training Modules: Data Security Awareness, Equality, Diversity and Human Rights, Conflict Resolution, Moving and Handling, Safeguarding Adults, Preventing Radicalisation, Safeguarding Children, Information Governance…
Dutifully I jumped through the hoops, did the training and took the exams, which are, largely, just common sense in multiple choice: “A patient has had to wait for over an hour for his appointment and damages a waiting room chair in frustration. Do you a) invoice him for the chair, b) ignore him and hope he goes away, c) listen to the patient’s complaint, sympathise with the situation, speak calmly, apologise for the delay and contact the doctor to get a better idea of an Estimated Time of Appointment for the patient, or d) punch his lights out?” I answered conscientiously, imagining a practice that was still using a waiting room or even seeing patients face to face.
I had to do something. So now I vaccinate. In this war, I wear the uniform plastic apron, I load my syringe and pierce flesh with metal. It’s non-stop and exhausting and wearing, and with the hundreds who pour through the hub (every one potentially a carrier), risky. And like any war, the worst part is watching a fat, dysfunctional Government, responsible for the worst civilian death toll in history, taking credit for the battles fought by volunteers and the low-paid troops of the NHS. But, you cannot vacillate. You have to do something.
This article originally appeared in print in