Humans are contrary creatures. When we are faced with danger, our first reaction is to pretend it doesn’t really exist. Our second is to panic.
Our third, when it threatens to overwhelm us, is to find someone to blame. And then, when the cavalry finally appear on the horizon, we turn our backs on them.
So it has been with the Covid danger. For precious weeks back in the early spring we ignored the risk, crammed into sports stadiums and rock concerts and then, when we realised we might be signing our death certificates, we closed down the country and condemned vast numbers of old people to a lonely death.
When that didn’t kill off the virus we blamed the scientists and the epidemiologists and anyone else we could find. Especially – often with justification – the politicians.
Humans are contrary creatures. When we are faced with danger, our first reaction is to pretend it doesn’t really exist. Our second is to panic. Our third, when it threatens to overwhelm us, is to find someone to blame [File photo]
And then, one dark November morning, the bugle sounded. There were no crowds celebrating in the highway and byways, just the cautious words over the airwaves of a boffin who, for most of us, might have been talking in Serbo-Croat.
Weird stuff about a messenger RNA that would enter our cells and trick them into producing viral proteins and trigger a defensive immune response. Did you understand it? Of course not.
Nor did the millions of people who heard it and apparently decided it was a bad thing. They (like me) would not know the difference between a ‘messenger RNA’ and a Christmas cracker, but they knew this vaccine would do us harm and we’d better avoid it.
No matter that if enough people heeded their warnings the vaccine would prove worthless and many, many more people would die from Covid-19.
What’s more, for these zealots it would not have mattered whether the scientists were injecting us with RNA or TNT. Vaccinations are bad. They are the born-again anti-vaxxers who threaten to do us serious harm. All of us.
Let me declare that I am a pro-vaxxer. My life has spanned a period in this nation’s history during which the lives of millions have been saved or transformed by the miracle of vaccination.
A deserted Belfast city centre is pictured above in Northern Ireland’s circuit breaker lockdown. One dark November morning, the bugle sounded. There were no crowds celebrating in the highway and byways, just the cautious words over the airwaves of a boffin who, for most of us, might have been talking in Serbo-Croat
And I have seen at first-hand the terrible price paid by the generation before me. Including my own father, George.
George was a typically naughty little 11-year-old when he caught measles. Every mother in those days knew what damage measles could do to the eyes if they were exposed to bright light so she shut him in his bedroom, drew the curtains and warned him to stay put. So he did – until temptation proved too much.
It was mid-winter. The streets were blanketed in snow and the sun was shining. George could hear his friends out in the street making the most of it. So he waited for his mother to slip out to the shops and joined his friends for a snowball fight. The glaring light was to cost him his sight.
It returned gradually over the years but too late, in those hard times, for him to get a proper education and never enough for him to drive a car. As he grew older, it deteriorated again. He died blind, his life blighted by a common childhood disease.
By the time my wife and I had our own children, measles had been conquered. The MMR vaccine also saw off those other horrible diseases: mumps and rubella. What a triumph for science and humanity. Until, that is, the likes of Andrew Wakefield came along.
Wakefield was a doctor when he produced research that showed the vaccination was dangerous because it was linked to autism. But it wasn’t. Wakefield was lying.
His ‘research’ was bogus. He was preying on the fears of the most vulnerable in society: scared parents.
He was eventually struck off by the General Medical Council after the longest fitness to practise hearing in its history.
He is now in the United States, making lots of money and basking in the glory of the many credulous souls who subscribe to the grotesque anti-vaxxing movement. Grotesque and very, very dangerous.
Dangerous not just to those babies who will not have had the protection they are entitled to, but to every other child in the land.
Vaccines are mighty weapons but for them to wipe out a disease entirely it is often vital to establish herd immunity.
And there are signs that measles is beginning to make a comeback. That’s one of the reasons I describe myself as a pro-vaxxer.
Many of you will say there is a huge difference between a measles vaccine and a Covid vaccine. Covid is new. The vaccine is untried. We should be very, very cautious just in case of potentially lethal side effects.
Perhaps – but only up to a point. Covid-19 may be new but the coronavirus from which it springs is not.
It has caused two relatively new epidemics – Sars and Mers – and scientists have had 20 years to study them in detail.
Shoppers are seen above in Newcastle. Covid-19 may be new but the coronavirus from which it springs is not
As for side effects, those who have had test jabs report that they are comparable to the effects of a mild dose of flu. Most have no side effects at all – not even the ‘symptoms of a mild hangover’ reported by one man who volunteered for a test jab in Texas.
Nor has the new vaccine been rushed through. Not unless you ignore the 100,000 people who have volunteered to take part in the trials.
How desperately sad and worrying, then, that so many people – some polls say a third – are ‘uncertain’ or ‘very unlikely’ to be vaccinated.
When I was in school the sight of children limping around the playground wearing callipers was commonplace.
So was hearing your parents talk about yet another child in the neighbourhood who’d been put in an ‘iron lung’. They were the victims of polio. We all feared it.
And then, one day, all of us kids were told to line up in the assembly hall because we were to be given a sugar lump. A rare treat.
But the real gift was a few years off. By the time I hit 30, polio had been vanquished. That’s what vaccination does.