Disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was forced to resign in June when he breached the Covid guidance he had imposed on everyone else through having an affair with an aide, wrote an article in the Telegraph this week calling for immediate mandatory vaccination for NHS and social-care workers. The Government announced last week that it would delay mandatory vaccination for these workers until April 2022 to avoid exacerbating winter staffing problems, with an estimated 100,000 NHS workers still unvaccinated. Hancock, however, argues this is a mistake that puts lives at risk.
His article contains so many factual and logical errors, however, that it serves primarily as an illustration of why Hancock as Health Secretary was such a disaster for the country, with an untamed authoritarian impulse and the absence of capacity for critical or nuanced thinking. Hancock’s world is one of crisp, clean black and white, where science speaks in unison, and what is healthy becomes what is morally required and what is morally required becomes what is legally required with barely a pause for breath. If there is any liberal impulse in there he conceals it very well indeed.
Let’s take a few minutes to go through his piece and spot the many places where his argument falls down.
One year ago today, the UK was in a perilous position in our fight against COVID-19. In the absence of vaccines, there was no way to fight the pandemic without painful lockdowns and deprivations of freedom. But the development of vaccines has changed all that.
This is a bad start. It repeats the false claim that COVID-19 cannot be managed without restrictions or vaccines. This completely disregards the evidence of places which imposed few or no restrictions, such as Sweden, Florida, South Dakota, Japan and Tanzania, and fared no worse than places which imposed the harshest restrictions. It also ignores the evidence from numerous published studies showing that the stringency and timing of restrictions was not associated with significant differences in outcomes.
But the honest truth is that vaccination matters more for some than others. Obviously, vaccination matters most for the oldest, and for those who care for the most vulnerable, too. After all, getting the vaccine isn’t just to protect you, but to protect those around you who you might otherwise infect.