Sunday 6 December 2020

Why I will be taking the Covid vaccine


About a year ago I was planning a long-haul trip. I looked the country up on the website to see what diseases were present there and which vaccinations were recommended. I booked an appointment at Boots and went to get the injections. I didn’t look up any of the vaccines on the Internet. I simply trusted that an NHS website would have sensible information and that any vaccines recommended would be safe.

Over the years like everyone else I have gone to the doctor. The doctor has sometimes given me advice about treatment and about medicines I should take. I have never once searched the Internet about these medicines, nor have I searched for other opinions about my treatment. I have not questioned if the doctor knows what he is talking about. I have not tried to find websites that undermine his opinion.

From time to time my doctor has recommended that I take a vaccine. I routinely have a vaccine for flu. I turn up every year get a jab sit down for five minutes and go home. I never research whether this year’s vaccine is safe or effective, or whether it would be better if I was vaccinated against a different strain of flu. I just accept what I am given and don’t think about it further.

Life is about trust and assessing risks in a reasonable way. When I get in a bus, I trust that the driver knows how to drive and isn’t drunk. When I get in a car, I trust that other car drivers will drive reasonably competently. When I fly in a plane, I trust that it has been repaired correctly, that the pilot knows how to fly and that the science of aeroplanes is accurate and that a combination of wings and jet engines will keep the plane from crashing.

We cannot know everything. No matter how educated a person is there are times when we have to trust that someone else knows better. If I know the science of planes and engines, I probably won’t know how vaccines work. If I know how vaccines work, I probably won’t understand suspension bridges or how buildings are constructed safely. If we didn’t trust that other people knew more than we do we wouldn’t use any of the products that are tested for safety routinely each year, nor would we dare do anything that depends on a knowledge that we lack.

I began reading about Covid last January and read a lot, because I had to weigh up the risks of travel and ultimately, I was unable to travel abroad because of Covid. The information about this new illness has been very divergent, and knowledge has changed rapidly.

I was mildly sceptical about lockdown from the beginning, because I thought in the long run it would kill more than it saved. I still think that, but it may take years to prove it. But despite my mild scepticism I always did what the public health authorities suggested. I have as far as I am aware broken no lockdown rules.

Public health is one of the great triumphs of modern times. It is the difference between 19th century squalor and disease in Britain with much lower life expectancy and the world we live in today. It is the difference between third world countries where we need special vaccinations to visit and Britain where we get a few vaccinations as children and teenagers and then can expect to live safely. Public health depends on the vast majority of people following certain rules and doing what they are told. If you don’t like that, then you might as well propose getting into a time machine so that you can live in Dickensian London.

2020 is the closest any of us have come to living through a war. It has cost the public finances the sort of amount that we would normally only spend in wartime. It has cost huge numbers of people their jobs and will cost more. There have been curtailments on freedom and restrictions that none of us would have thought possible a year ago.

It may be possible to argue that some of these restrictions were unnecessary. I think it is reasonable to suggest that if we had done nothing from March onwards but wash our hands more, then in the long run more lives would have been saved. But this was never a political option given that all Western countries including in the end even Sweden have behaved similarly. The media would have crucified any lockdown sceptic politician in the face of mounting Covid deaths, even if it had been true that doing nothing would ultimately save lives overall.

In the absence of a vaccine Covid would probably have followed the pattern of previous epidemics. In time as more and more people were infected it would have become milder and eventually, we would not have noticed it. But who knows how long it would have been before we could have got back to how things were a year ago? The cost to our economy that is already catastrophic would continually have got worse.

We are exceptionally fortunate that through the brilliance of modern science a number of vaccines have been discovered. Governments around the world have thrown the kitchen sink at this.

Britain is particularly fortunate because we will receive the vaccine more quickly than anyone else. This means that we will get back to normal more quickly. The damage to our economy will be less.

The vaccines that have been developed have been tested by scientists. None of the people who have received them during the testing have become seriously ill. No serious scientist has written a scientific paper that has even suggested that any of the Covid vaccines is unsafe. No one has pointed out a real danger from taking one of them and published it in a serious scientific journal.  

I am not much at risk from Covid, but I live with my 87-year-old mother and she is seriously at risk. If I caught Covid it would be very difficult for me to avoid infecting her. I will therefore take the vaccine as quickly as possible and at the first opportunity as will my mother. The issue is not whether you are at risk, but whether you can pass on Covid to others.

Vaccines work on individuals, but more importantly they work on the group. So long as the vast majority of children are given a measles vaccine it is unlikely that there will be a measles outbreak. But when the percentage of those children being given the vaccine falls below 95% an outbreak becomes more and more likely.

The anti-MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine campaign which falsely linked the MMR vaccine with autism led to fewer parents vaccinating their children, which caused more measles outbreaks in Britain. Measles had been eradicated in Britain but is now killing children. All because of a charlatan who was anti-vaccines.

Most of us are not much at risk of Covid. The chances of me dying are very small. The biggest risk to most of us is economic. Our standard of living and our job prospects are being continually damaged by the continuation of the pandemic. This will have a real outcome on health. Recession and loss of jobs kills people. Less money spent on health care kills people.

There is only one thing that can prevent us getting back to normal. That one thing is if not enough people choose to be vaccinated against Covid. If nearly everyone in Britain gets vaccinated when given the chance, it will be very hard to find anyone with Covid who can infect anyone else. If not, enough people get vaccinated, we will potentially have a situation like with Measles.

The vaccine has been developed quickly, but thousands of people have already received it. No one has died or become seriously ill. What’s the worst that could happen to you then? Not much. You might have a fever and feel like you had a hangover. The risk to you is tiny. Far less than the risk of Covid and also far less than the risk of letting the economy go further into recession.

I believe the British Government and its scientific advisors have been doing their best. They may have made mistakes. I may not have agreed with every decision.  But I still trust that these people want what is best for Britain. I still trust that the scientists who have discovered the vaccine are honest and genuinely want to end the Covid pandemic. There is no serious evidence to suggest anything else.

If you don’t trust the scientists who discovered the vaccine, why do you truth any other scientists? But in that case, you would as well reject the whole of the modern world. We have to trust scientists and doctors, or we simply cannot function. So too now. I am quite sure the vaccine is safe and advice everyone to take it.