HOW quick the people of this country have been to condemn those health and care workers who choose not to have the vaccine. How fast has been the mounting of those moral high horses; how vitriolic the scorn for the selfishness of those who prefer to say no to a novel treatment for a relatively mild disease. To those of us on this side of the fence, it has been one of the most unbelievable aspects of this entire desperate saga. To be alone in a circle of family and friends, where no one is willing to understand your reasoning, or your principles, is bewildering.
The golden part of my working life has been in the ambulance service. Like many wonderful people before and after me, I have confronted horrific scenes, been terrified, been devastated and been crushingly exhausted many times for many years. Given lots and been given back lots. It has been an incredible life – it has been an honour.
As I sit here writing this, I have arthritis creeping into stiff and sore joints, inflaming injuries taken whilst lifting people off floors, wrenching people out of cars, and even a shoulder injury from fighting off an agitated patient. I have been threatened with a knife and been spat on. I would do all this again and I am not alone – most of our front-line workers do this relentlessly still, because it is what we do, what we must do.
Those who shout ‘irresponsible’ at me need to hear that, on more occasions than I can count, I have pulled morbidly obese people from their beds or floors, carried them downstairs, lifted them into ambulances. Never did I question it, or refuse it, or abuse them, despite their massive girth or sometimes imperious attitude towards me. I wrecked my mental health for many months over the trauma and the bereavement I was witnessing. I have held hands with those afflicted by scabies, been covered in others’ blood many times, and picked up a traumatically amputated leg with not even a glove on my hand.
I would do all this again in a heartbeat. To comfort the terrified and the dying is a privilege. I never had vaccinations for flu or chickenpox. I long ago accepted that disease is part and parcel of human life, and very much part of the service I have chosen. My immune system is almost certainly the richer for the fights it has had to undertake. Vaccinations are a great weapon in survival for the vulnerable, but they are not everything – good health and nutrition are also a life choice, as is the critical evaluation of whether a vaccine is right for you, together with the rights of those you serve.
If you think I am irresponsible to choose not to have a vaccine that has never been proven to stop transmission (and STILL keeps us in restrictions), then you must also think that everything I have done, and been proud of, is also irresponsible – that I should have gloved my hand before holding a man dying in front of me; should have held off and waited for the fire brigade when confronted with a burning car; should have fiddled around wasting time to put a plastic mask on a child’s face before resuscitating them instead of putting my own mouth over theirs to get air to their tiny lungs more quickly. Sanctimony is rife in those that have settled into armchairs whilst watching the TV and tapping abuse into their Facebook accounts.
I will lose my current job under the care-home mandatory vaccination plans. I will no longer be able to inspect care and health settings, hold bad practice to account or help find ways to improve patient welfare. Like most in my line of work, if I have been clearly unwell with a cough or cold, I have refrained from approaching patients and staff. I have stepped well back. But I have still gone forward and comforted those who do have a fever, without question, if they have needed me. Unlike my accusers, I have read a great deal of evidence about the spread of all respiratory diseases, and I completely question that asymptomatic spread is realistically possible. I am not putting people at risk by not having this vaccine, just as I never did by not having the flu vaccine in years gone past. I have trusted my common sense. Young healthy women who give care to your grandparents in their residential homes, and who choose not to have the vaccine, are not absent in their duties. Conversely, they are more sensible to wait to see that it is safe for them to take it, particularly given the growing evidence of its effects on fertility.
In years gone by, many of you have thrown the responsibility for yourselves or your loved ones on to people like us. Sometimes that responsibility has weighed heavily, but that is what the health and social sector do every day. You ask us to. I have seen people leave their parent at a care home and never return to visit. Now some of you same people are indignant that we choose to have personal responsibility over our own lives and health. You harp on that we may be risking the lives of those we care for. But you are not around, or you are unable, to care for these relatives yourselves. To add insult to all this, after all the years’ service I have given to the NHS I am also, it seems, in danger of the NHS refusing to give me the same treatment as someone who is double-jabbed and never worked a day in their life. We live in a country which has let that particular insinuation by our Health Secretary go unchecked. (See Kate Dunlop’s article on this elsewhere in these pages today.) Where the hell has the British sense of fairness and duty gone?
If I do have this vaccine, it will mean we truly are on a slippery slope of health fascism. Where will the mandatory job requirements end? And who would you rather have on your side? Those with compassion and critical thinking who have given their lives to helping others? Or Matt Hancock and his band of supporters who shout from the safety of their social media accounts, who spread fear instead of salve, who allow health screenings to be cancelled, who prevent loved ones attending the dying? We are no longer in a pandemic, no matter how our government fudges the figures. We should assess risk according to the rules of humanity and not the rules of diktat. And those who are happy about many workers losing their jobs in the next few weeks must soon be prepared to have to take back their relatives, and their responsibilities again, when homes close and services fail. You may win this battle, Matt Hancock – but will you really win the war?