No, the NHS is Not Being Overwhelmed by the Unvaccinated

The amount of misinformation being put out by Government ministers and senior medics about the proportion of unvaccinated people in hospital with Covid is reaching a new level that is beginning to feel disturbingly sinister.

When lockdown sceptics are joining in with the condemnation, you know the problem has ratcheted up a notch or three.

The normally reliable Philip Johnston in the Telegraph points the finger at the unvaccinated for threatening the capacity of the health service, citing a number of misleading claims.

The panacea, we are told, is to get boosted. Yet by definition the refuseniks will not get a third jab when they have not been vaccinated in the first place. I understand if someone does not want to get jabbed. It is their body and they are entitled to say they do not want to be medicated. We cannot force them to. But if the consequence of that decision is to place others at risk then it cannot be allowed to pass by default. We all understand, too, that some people for a variety of medical reasons cannot have the vaccine.

In order to persuade a greater take-up of jabs, the Government wanted to bring in vaccine passports for certain settings but watered these down to include proof of a negative test, which rather defeats the object. Scores of Tory MPs voted against even this on the grounds that such a measure was illiberal.

But the Conservative Party has never been a libertarian movement. It is supposed to believe that with rights come responsibilities. Opponents of heavy-handed state action against the citizen often quote J S Mill’s famous dictum: “The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilised society, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” I agree with that. I don’t see why I should have restrictions placed on me when I am unlikely to cause harm to others.

But that is not necessarily true of the unvaccinated. According to Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, nine in 10 Covid patients needing the most care are unjabbed. A similar point was made by Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, who said the “vast, vast majority” of seriously ill people were unjabbed, identifying “black Londoners, Muslim Londoners, Jewish Londoners and eastern European Londoners” as groups that are proving particularly resistant. Why is this?

In the absence of comprehensive official data, we are having to rely on anecdotal evidence, but I know several hospital consultants who tell of seriously ill patients being transferred to critical care units who are still unvaccinated, taking up emergency beds needed for other patients.

One told me that so far he had not seen anyone in intensive care who had been jabbed, suggesting that even if vaccinated people are getting sick, they’re not getting as sick. This should be good news, even with the onset of Omicron, and yet here we are again facing a lockdown to preserve the NHS from collapse.

The claims Johnston repeats here are, at best, highly misleading. Take Sajid Javid’s line that “nine in 10 Covid patients needing the most care are unjabbed”. This stat has been repeated often by the haters-of-the-unvaccinated in recent days, but their source is rarely stated. It appears to refer to the claim made by NHS England at the start of December that, as the Times reports, “between July and November more than nine in 10 patients receiving the most specialist care, in which artificial lungs were used to try to save their lives, were unvaccinated”.

That raw statistic may be true (it is not in the public domain), but any implication that it means the unvaccinated are adding considerable pressure to health service resources doesn’t withstand scrutiny since the numbers involved here are miniscule. As Dr Clare Craig points out, over recent weeks there have only been one or two new Covid admissions being put onto an ‘artificial lung’ ECMO machine each week.

What about Sadiq Khan’s claim that the “vast, vast majority” of seriously ill people are unjabbed? It is, once again, asserted without providing a source, and in this case it appears to be flatly contradicted by the published data.

According to the latest data published by the UKHSA, a minority of Covid hospital admissions in the month ending December 12th – 42.9% – were unvaccinated. According to the latest data from ICNARC, a minority of Covid ICU admissions in October – 46.7% – and a minority in the two-week period November 1st to 14th – 47.5% – were unvaccinated. ICNARC has not published any more recent data than that on the ratio of unvaccinated to vaccinated Covid patients in ICU. If it has changed dramatically since then, that data is not in the public domain.

A Telegraph editorial on Monday drew on the same set of myths and even followed it up with an implied threat.

We were assured that if we were vaccinated – and most of us answered the call – the Government would pursue a different policy, of learning to live with Covid. The main reason that this is being abandoned is not because the new strain is especially dangerous to most people but because hospitals risk being overwhelmed, mainly by people who have refused the jab. What is to be done about them?

Et tu, Telegraph?

In January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (the organisation which includes the European Court of Human Rights), adopted a resolution urging member states and the European Union to ensure that “citizens are informed that the vaccination is not mandatory and that no one is under political, social or other pressure to be vaccinated if they do not wish to do so” and that “no one is discriminated against for not having been vaccinated, due to possible health risks or not wanting to be vaccinated”.

There are many reasons a person may choose not to be vaccinated, particularly if he or she is young, healthy, or has had Covid already, and is wary of the novel genetic technology and unusually high level of reported adverse events. This should be respected, without prejudice or discrimination. There should be no question of penalising him or her, anymore than, say, smokers, drinkers or motorcyclists should be penalised for making what is deemed by health authorities to be a higher risk choice.

Previously the haters-of-the-unvaccinated focused on infection rates and the claim that the unvaccinated spread the disease far more than the vaccinated. Once that claim collapsed they switched to hospital admissions. When the data there is lacking, they either make stuff up, use data from six months ago, or find obscure statistics involving tiny numbers of people to find something, anything, that sounds sufficiently scary to demonise the unvaccinated.

Apart from anything else, whatever happened to simply being a decent human being?

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