AS society eases back into post-lockdown normality we will soon all be asked to vote for the heroes of Covid. By the end of the year not a single newspaper or television franchise will have failed to establish some kind of award to show that they care. NHS workers will soon be asking for financial assistance to pay for the fancy dresses and dinner suits required to attend all the glittering ceremonies. I’m sure they’d much rather their life-saving efforts during lockdown had been recognised with a generous wage increase. And not as photo opportunities for politicians prior to a re-election campaign.
You’re still hopeful that someone will also be compiling a list of Covid villains. And that all those people who promised to boycott hotel chains who threw workers onto the street at the start of the pandemic remembered their outrage. Or that politicians might ask Virgin Atlantic and British Airways if they’ll be re-hiring those workers they immediately jettisoned at the first sign of trouble, following decades of multi-million profits.
Or why the supermarkets, who continued to trade throughout the emergency, persisted in placing their workers in harm’s way by making them stack shelves during business hours rather than pay them out-of-hours overtime. Could we have a list of shame comprising those businesses which forced their staff into work on crowded buses and trains as Covid began its first trawl of the vulnerable? They were impervious to the dangers faced by these workers who, without the protection of a trade union, were entirely at the mercy of profiteering.
In normal times you might expect the Labour Party to back the trade union movement in ensuring that even those employees in the gig economy are provided with basic trade union protections? These are not normal times though. The organisation currently masquerading as the UK Labour Party would probably move to expel you if you suggested such a thing.
The late emergence of the anti-vaccination/anti-mask movement as the UK exits lockdown stands accused of exceeding all such villainy. Yet, you might normally possess a degree of sympathy with these people. Any movement that asks us to be sceptical of big government issuing blanket diktats restricting personal freedoms would normally make you stop, at least, to have a look.
Those of us on the left of the political spectrum are eternally suspicious of the motives that influence governments when they use emergency laws to impose mass restrictions. Even more so when lockdown has exposed the way in which the UK Government in particular has exploited a lethal pandemic to enrich their families and party donors. Dante would have created a tenth circle of Hell to accommodate such wickedness.
I think it’s the terrifying sense of certainty and righteousness of those who advance anti-vaccination theory – and their overweening narcissism – which chill you. Nowhere do they pause to consider the possibility that they might be wrong and that, as such, they risk endangering the health of fragile and broken people who may be vulnerable to their conspiracies.
The experience of the young journalist, Kirsty Strickland, at the hands of these people indicated something malevolent at their core. In her column for The Courier, Ms Strickland described how a gang of anti-maskers cornered her and her six-year-old daughter after they’d spotted them wearing masks. They were then subjected to a terrifying onslaught of abuse and intimidation as they attempted to walk away.
They place their scepticism on a higher plain than the wisdom of consultants who have served on the front-line of the NHS for decades. Last week two of them conveyed to me a few simple facts. Neither of them claimed that their expertise and experience was the final word. On average, they said, a UK citizen has had 18 vaccines by the age of five. It’s why none of our children died of measles and why none were infertile due to mumps or are at risk of tuberculosis.
The anti-vacc squad and those who prey on the fears of the unwary misrepresent vaccines as something new; yet they’ve been established as a front-line barrier against disease and have changed society, especially for those in the highest-risk categories: the poor and under-nourished. They’ve abolished smallpox and polio is all but defeated.
Much of the misinformation on vaccines is demonstrably proven to have been planted by hostile players using the wild west of social media. Others, such as the self-styled historian Neil Oliver seem eager to show that his knowledge of human affairs exists on a higher sphere than that which the rest of us aspire to. It smacks of needing to see himself as not bound by rules that govern the little people.
Thus, a significant minority of the population, perhaps vulnerable to mental health issues, risk a suite of serious, Covid-related complications. It seems unquestionable too that, without the vaccine, we would all still be in lockdown. Other anti-vaccination theories suggest that microchips are being installed by stealth inside hospital patients and that this magnetises them and renders them subject to manipulation by government.
The senior health practitioners who must deal with the human consequences of such theories have been at pains to insist they don’t have all the answers. They simply say that the vaccines work and have exceeded even their expectations; that the side effects are minuscule compared to the risks attaching to the virus and that if you get vaccinated you minimise the risk of transmitting it to your loved ones.
Yet, we probably ought to avoid being sanctimonious in this debate about truth. The pandemic has exposed the fact that the UK Government is rotten and corrupt to its core in exploiting the suffering of its citizens for financial gain through a mafia trade in public contracts. There is good reason not to trust what it says when asking the rest of us to behave responsibly.
Meanwhile the affluent West continues to stockpile vaccines while our poorest neighbours struggle to access them. While we remain impervious to this obscenity we lose the right to lecture others on the morals of vaccination.
Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.