by Guy de la Bédoyère
One of the great virtues of this site has been the exchange of views in lively debate. It allows Lockdown Sceptics to be an island of measured sanity (at least sometimes!) in a sea of madness.
In that spirit Toby invited me to write a piece about why I had a Covid vaccination. My decision was an individual one based on a variety of previous experiences and so it should be for everyone else, but the fact remains that all sorts of considerations arise in these most unusual of circumstances.
The only message I have is that each of us should make our own judgements about what we do. Nobody should be forcing anyone to have the vaccine, and nobody should be hurling abuse at someone for deciding to have it. That kind of intolerance, on both sides, has become quite common of late and it’s a great pity.
I also don’t think it’s worth adopting an entrenched dogmatic position. That creates hostages to fortune. Circumstances, and diseases, change. Deal with the situation at hand. Until last winter I’d never had a flu vaccine – I’ve never had flu so I didn’t see the point, and I’d managed nine years teaching in a secondary school until the age of 58 without having a single day off sick (unlike all my other colleagues, and most of the students). But I did not feel strongly either way. I only had one this time round to make sure I was on the local surgery list because I haven’t seen a doctor since 1989. Conversely, if a disease ever emerges with Ebola’s colossal IFR rate and Covid’s contagiousness, and enters this country, it’s fairly likely even a large number of ardent anti-vaxxers might start changing their minds.
Nor do I understand the viewpoint that seems to dictate that anyone who is to a greater or lesser degree opposed to what the lockdowns have done to us should also be anti-vaccines. That’s a form of intolerance of divergent views that does lockdown scepticism no credit. They are, surely, entirely different issues? It’s only when vaccines become a compulsory imposition, whether by law or in practice, that they are drawn into that wider issue of Government enforcing a way of life upon us.
One piece on LS has raised the interesting issue that younger people are more likely to exhibit vaccine hesitancy. That isn’t surprising at all. Younger people in the UK are far less likely to have experienced or witnessed serious illness than those several decades older. For example, I have vivid memories from the mid-1960s of children my age struggling around in calipers following infantile paralysis caused by polio.
Family experiences obviously have some effect. My mother nearly died at the age of four in 1938 when she caught scarlet fever, diphtheria, and whooping cough at the same time. There were no vaccines and limited treatment. She survived (unlike many other children in Glasgow where she was born), which was just as well for her five children, fourteen grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. In 1941 her mother died from tuberculosis – common then in the UK as it had been for generations, but down to only a few thousand now unlike some countries such as Bangladesh and South Africa. The tuberculosis vaccine arrived in 1953 and yes, I know, improved living conditions and diet have also played a large part in reducing the disease’s impact.
In the late 1980s we declined the MMR jab for our sons, having become concerned by the implications for their immune systems of being bombarded with multiple vaccines simultaneously. All three of the elder ones went on to catch mumps as young adults and two were so badly affected there was a substantial chance they had been sterilised. Luckily, that didn’t happen, but it was a very close call. Our fourth son, having seen what happened to his brothers, had the jab by his own choice as a teenager and has had no problems. My wife has never forgiven herself for what happened to the elder three.
I spent a considerable amount of time several years ago researching and then writing a book about the polio vaccine. That work confirmed to me that vaccines are not quite the black and white issue the public health authorities often imply, but not enough to make me an anti-vaxxer. Few people realise now how big a deal polio was in the 1940s and 50s though it was around as far back as 18th Dynasty Egypt 3,400 years ago. Fecally transmitted through water, polio outbreaks became a summer feature in the 20th century and especially in those years after World War 2 when people gathered in pools and other similar recreational settings. The greatest impact was on young people and children.
The year 1956 was especially bad in the UK but polio had become an ever more serious issue from 1947 on. In terms of absolute numbers symptomatic and detected polio cases were very few compared to Covid, but the proportionate effect on the sufferers was far higher. In the US in 1952 there were just under 53,000 detected symptomatic cases (the US has been managing considerably more Covid cases every day until recently), 21,269 of whom had suffered paralysis to some degree. But by 1962 there were 886 cases, of which 707 had involved paralysis. Obviously Covid testing is on an astronomical scale by comparison – there were many more asymptomatic cases of polio or mild cases than will ever now be known.
After extensive trials, the Salk vaccine (which used inactivated, or ‘killed’, virus) became available in 1955. Tragically, and despite the trials, there was a bad batch of 400,000 doses early on which caused 260 full-blown polio cases and 11 deaths (the ‘Cutter Incident’, named after the lab responsible). This temporarily discredited the vaccine, but once the reason was known it did not recur.
The cost of production and vaccination led to the adoption in the 1960s of the cheaper live (but weakened) vaccine pioneered by Albert Sabin and normally given on sugar lumps. The live Sabin polio vaccine is generally no longer in use because it was recognised to be unreliable – something that no-one who had been previously given it was told. Indeed, it could cause polio in people with weakened immune systems. Since then, polio has been vaccinated against with the more expensive inactivated type. Today, the disease only subsists in a small number of Third World communities (mainly Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan) where cultural and religious resistance to vaccines means the polio vaccine is usually refused.
Polio of course is not Covid. The polio virus is more stable. The polio vaccine is based on using the actual virus. Covid virus technology is different, though there are various vaccine types, and it is obvious these have been developed far more quickly.
There is another key difference between Covid and its vaccines and all other diseases for which vaccines have become available. Covid has been the pretext used by Governments across the world to impose a litany of arbitrary and inconsistent restrictions on our lives of debatable efficacy and which have been extended several times. Never before have epidemiologists, modellers and public health officials stepped so far outside their normal spheres to pronounce on how we should live our lives. Some have not held back from telling us how we should change our lives forever, some notoriously extolling the virtues of totalitarian regimes with their ruthless enforcement of mitigation measures and now using the nebulous prospect of super-resistant variants to recommend that those measures remain enforced. This undermines the whole principle of vaccination.
We have had no say in any of this and even Parliament has been frequently passed over. The vaccine however remains a matter of free choice in the UK which is to be welcomed.
In the end, all one can do is make a choice based on personal circumstances and interests, and on an intelligent and informed assessment of the relative risks.
I live in a country where many businesses that I care about are going to have no control over what they are required to do by the state. Some of those businesses deal with other countries where they will have even less influence. We also face dealing with foreign businesses which can also impose conditions beyond the UK’s control. Two of my sons live abroad (Vietnam and Mexico). My choice then is predicated in no small part on whether I and my wife will be physically able ever again to travel to see them, or them to see us. If being vaccinated opens that door then so be it.
British Airways and other airlines have been a large part of our lives and we wish to support them. In the end, just as it did for Peter Hitchens, this clinched it for me, though I never really had any doubt. No point in cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Seeing our son, granddaughter, and grandson in Hanoi is a great deal more important to us than fussing about a vaccine which we are not obliged to have anyway. Thanks to Covid we haven’t even met one of the children yet.
I could complain all I liked about the injustice of being prevented from taking a flight if I hadn’t been vaccinated but it’s not a battle I could ever win, and – more to the point – I don’t have the time to waste fighting a battle I wasn’t interested in fighting in the first place. The inconvenience of not having a vaccine would far outweigh the inconvenience of having had it.
It’s unfortunate that the lockdown zealots are already using those who have not been vaccinated as a means to maintain restrictions on our lives and even extend them permanently. I find this exceptionally frustrating, and very ironic. The latest so-called ‘relaxation’ of the rules about care home residents, especially those who have been vaccinated, still subjects them to disgraceful isolation from most of their families and completely undermines the purpose of vaccines. This shames our society and the ‘experts’ so keen to promote this continued barbarity. Regular readers of these pages will know that my mother-in-law’s death in a home two weeks ago came too late even for the latest ‘concession’.
In my view it’s better to wrongfoot the zealots and leave them with as few excuses as possible to carry on locking us down – after all, it was the Government that heralded the arrival of vaccines as the escape route. In the absence of any other weaponry, the best argument we have is that the availability of vaccinations means the entire lockdown strategy should have become unnecessary. We might ask ourselves what would be happening now had vaccines not emerged?
As for the experience of being vaccinated, it went like this. The NHS online booking was easy and includes setting up the second vaccination in 11 weeks’ time.
The process of receiving the jab is straightforward if a little Byzantine in the tiers of staff you have to work through of checking in and seeing a nurse before being jabbed. It’s actually quite impressive and the whole set-up is run by a lot of normal people.
The nurse who went through our health history also talked about the vaccine hesitancy among younger people (the vulnerable ones they have already been jabbing), putting this down to a minimal experience of disease. She added that these younger people also exhibit more of the minor side effects. She and her colleagues are wondering to what extent this is attributable to a younger generation’s less well-developed immune systems thanks to over-exposure to cleaner environments and less exposure to normal illnesses.
I had an Oxford Astra Zeneca jab. Did the injection hurt? No. Side effects? I tested our temperatures the morning after the jabs: 36.5 C for myself and my wife – quite normal. Twenty two hours after the jab we felt tired, temperature fractionally up to 36.7 which is not significant, and briefly fell asleep in the afternoon. By 36 hours after the jab and a good night’s sleep the fatigue had evaporated completely. A week later nothing has changed. I feel completely fine, and so does everyone else I know who’s had it. Frankly, the entire experience was inconsequential apart from the fact that I shall expect to be allowed onto an aircraft as soon as possible.
The decision for me was easy to make for two reasons:
1. Being vaccinated is the best reason for telling the Government and lockdown fanatics that the game is up for their more extreme precautions. I do not want to be their pretext we are all told the restrictions have to stay in place forever.
2. I have a much better chance of being able to see my family and the grandchildren who I am already well aware will only be in their twenties or thirties at most when I die.
In short, it suited my interests to go ahead. That was my decision, and I am for the moment entirely happy with it. Anyone and everyone should make their decision based on what suits their interests too and recognise that making decisions means compromises – that is something we should not only be allowed to do but also at the same time accept. But if the Government turns vaccines into one monumental swiz it will be an entirely different matter.