NHS Compulsory Vaccination as an Example of Doublethink

There follows a guest post by Dr. Peter Hayes, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sunderland, who spies a touch of Orwellian propaganda in the Government’s mixed messages on NHS staff and vaccination.

On November 9th, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that all frontline NHS staff must be double vaccinated by April 2022 or lose their jobs. In relaying this news, the BBC first explained the April deadline as being one that would allow staff “enough time” to get the jabs. This, of course, is nonsense: any adult who wants to get twice vaccinated has already had ample time to do so. Insofar as “enough time” means anything, it is a version of the parental ploy: “I am going to count to three, and if you don’t do what you are told by then, I will…”, the only difference being that the threat is not “send you to bed without any supper” but “sack you”. 

The BBC soon replaced this lame explanation of the April deadline with a new one of breathtaking audacity. NHS staff had to be vaccinated against Covid, yes, but the deadline was delayed until April so that unvaccinated staff could be on hand to help cope with the winter pressure on the NHS; pressure that is anticipated as a result of the combined effects of Covid and flu. 

This second explanation provides a textbook example of doublethink, one that is as good, if not better, than the original illustration given by George Orwell. In 1984 doublethink allows the regime to shift at will between (1) a false account of reality that is held for ideological reasons, and (2) a true account of reality that is kept handy for practical purposes. Thus, it is explained that (1) The world is the centre of the universe with the sun and nearby stars going round it. However, for the purpose of navigating the oceans, (2) the earth orbits the sun and the stars are vastly distant. So it is with the compulsory vaccination, by April, of NHS staff.  First we have the false account. 

(1) Vaccination protects the recipient against acquiring and transmitting Covid. Therefore, in order not to spread Covid, NHS staff must be vaccinated. 

But for the practical purpose of dealing with the winter surge in hospitalisations – Covid included – there is a shift to the true account.  

(2) Vaccination does not, in fact, protect the recipient against acquiring and transmitting Covid. Therefore, unvaccinated NHS staff can perfectly well help deal with the anticipated winter surge without making things worse. 

When it comes to the spring, let us hope that, like the parent counting to three, the Government will find a way to back down on its threat (“One, Two, …Two-and-a-Half…”). But perhaps we do not need to worry about this too much. For if the Government does dismiss those who stubbornly remain unvaccinated, and then come the next winter the NHS finds itself short staffed, in accordance with the principles of doublethink, the Government can simply rehire them. 

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