ON 14th December 2020, a Petition was placed before Parliament for debate. The petition entitled “Prevent any restrictions on those who refuse a Covid-19 Vaccination” garnered 324,261 signatures.
The outcome of this debate could have the most profound consequences for those who choose not to partake in the Government’s experimental Covid-19 vaccination rollout. Will the ability to participate fully within society be curtailed upon refusal?
Time to take a closer look.
The Petition read:-
Prevent any restrictions on those who refuse a Covid-19 vaccination
I want the Government to prevent any restrictions being placed on those who refuse to have any potential Covid-19 vaccine. This includes restrictions on travel, social events, such as concerts or sports. No restrictions whatsoever.
You cannot force someone to have a vaccination and should not be able to coerce them into it by way of restrictions. We have to the right to assess the risk ourselves as we have done in the past.
The Government response – 11 September 2020:-
There are currently no plans to place restrictions on those who refuse to have any potential Covid-19 vaccine…..
It was a lengthy debate I will try and summarise the important information by attaching full link at the end of article.
The standard for testing and monitoring vaccines is higher than for most other medicines, because they are unusual in the medical world in that they are put into the bodies of healthy people, especially healthy children. That means that the acceptable level of risk of harm is much lower than in cancer treatment, for example, for which we accept a certain level of risk, given the illness that we are battling.
If people need any proof that the anti-vax movement is driven by anything but concern for public safety, they need look no further than Brian Deer’s excellent book, “The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Andrew Wakefield’s War on Vaccines”, which I had the pleasure of reading before today’s debate. He expertly demonstrates the lies, the bad science, the personal ambition and everything in between that drives this well-funded and well-organised movement, which has ulterior motives to the ones it claims publicly. Because of the anti-vax movement, children are now dying from illnesses that they could easily have been prevented from contracting, such as measles, mumps and rubella, which is an absolute disgrace.
Jim Shannon MP (Strangford) (DUP)
Vaccinations should be strongly encouraged, and I encourage people to take up their flu jab, the MMR vaccination and others, and to take this Covid-19 vaccine when it comes.
However, it must be a matter of personal choice, and I in no way support punishing those who do not choose to take this vaccine, ever mindful that I want them to take it. I wish that they would, and I hope that we can convince them
The debate centres around the fact that there must be an element of choice, and while the Government have said that vaccination will not be mandated at present, responses such as
“the Government will carefully consider all options to improve vaccination rates, should that be necessary” may pose a question in the minds of some people about whether they will be made to take it. I do not think that they will be, but I will listen to the arguments.
Many people need their concerns addressed and fears dispelled, and I believe this debate is the time to ensure that one option is not enforced vaccination, or a penalty for not being vaccinated, or even a curtailment of activity. Again, it is a point of persuasion.
While I am aware that other nations that may consider immunity passports alongside vaccination, it is my fervent belief that we must not penalise people who remain unconvinced.
I also express my concern over some of those on the internet and social media who promote the opinion—I will be careful how I put this—that the vaccine could be harmful and would be detrimental to health and wellbeing. I gently suggest that we need to listen to the scientists who have the evidence and the knowledge and who can deliver the convincing evidence necessary for people to understand that there should not be a fear. I caution the internet and social media users against the drive that there seems to be to do that.
I understand that there must be a decent uptake for this vaccine to be effective, but I also understand that those who have questions. Reliable information and all the necessary evidence must be made public, so that everyone can weigh up the risks and benefits for themselves. That freedom must be the cornerstone of any discussion of the vaccine.
Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
I thank the 589 Wycombe constituents who signed the petition.
I want to make 3 points.
First, vaccines are a good thing. I wish to add something said by the deputy chief medical officer, Professor Van-Tam:
“If we can get through phase one” of the priority list—
“and it is a highly effective vaccine and there is very, very high up take, then we could in theory take out 99% of hospitalisations and deaths related to Covid 19.” (theory??)
That is his estimate (estimate??) That is a tremendous thing. I will certainly have a safe and effective vaccine when it is my turn, and I encourage others to do so. However, I will not gainsay those people who wish to refuse a medicine.
That brings me to my 2nd point.
Whatever we may think of other people’s opinions, we cross an ethical boundary if we compel people to take a medicine. It is clear from what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that there is no question of the Government compelling people to take a vaccine for this disease, and quite right, too.
It is worth remembering that although the infection fatality rate for this disease is considerably worse than flu—I understand it is between 0.5% and 1%.
We are not talking about a 10% infection fatality rate. I dare say, if we were up at an 80% infection fatality rate, we would all support authoritarian measures without too much of a second thought, because such a serious disease would threaten our civilisation. This disease, dreadful as it is, has an infection fatality rate of about 1% overall, so there can be no question of coercing people directly to take the vaccine.
That brings me to the text of the petition, which states:
“I want the Government to prevent any restrictions being placed on those who refuse to have any potential Covid-19 vaccine.”
That goes a little further. That is not about stopping the Government from compelling people to take it; it is about ensuring that those people who, for whatever reason, do not wish to take the vaccine, do not lose their liberties as a consequence. I understand from people better versed in medical ethics that this is known as implicit coercion.
One can imagine a circumstance in which, for example, an airline chose to say to people, “You may not fly until you have had a vaccine.” A restaurant might say, “You cannot come in until you have had the vaccine.” On and on it would go, until reaching a point where unless people have had the vaccine, they cannot live what most of us would consider a normal life, going to restaurants, shops or whatever it may be. To me, that would be totally unacceptable.
Before moving on to why that would be unacceptable, I have to say that it would also be ineffective. There is a difference between a vaccine stopping someone from getting a disease and being killed by it and a vaccine that stops someone shedding the disease on to others. The harm principle in the philosophy of freedom is about constraining people’s liberties so that they do not harm others.
At the moment, a number of businesses that are looking at restricting their customers to those who have been vaccinated have not understood that, actually, we do not yet know whether the vaccine will stop people shedding the disease.
I turn to something that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said in relation to the Pfizer vaccine. When asked how many people will need to be vaccinated before life can return to normal, he said:
“The answer to that is we just do not know. So the trials can tell you if a vaccine is clinically safe and if it’s effective at protecting an individual from the disease. What we can’ know, until we’ve vaccinated a significant proportion of the population, is how much it stops the transmission of the disease.”
I would say to businesses “Please don’t start seeking to restrict your customers’ ability to come and do business with you because they haven’t had the vaccine.”
I can see that Ministers might face a temptation to say, “Let’s allow the acceleration of the roll-out of the vaccine by turning a blind eye to property owners insisting on people being vaccinated before staying in their bed and breakfast, or whatever it might be.” I understand the argument, but I have to say to the Minister, who I am sure understands the argument, that we cross a Rubicon if we say that it is possible to discriminate against people on the basis of their health status. That would be an ethical mistake, which we could regret for a very long time.
For those two reasons—because it is not an effective thing to do, and because it is morally wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of their choice not to take a vaccine—I will stand with the petitioners in asking the Government to prevent any restrictions being placed on people who refuse to have any potential covid-19 vaccine.
I will not give the least succour to the anti-vaxxers, but I say to the Minister that people have all sorts of strange beliefs in this world. If people do not want to take a vaccine, please let us not turn a blind eye to any kind of discrimination against them.
We can all agree that it is simply not the case that either the UK Government or the Scottish Government have any plans to mandate the covid vaccine and make it compulsory.
Indeed, the Scottish Government—and, I believe, the UK Government—have explicitly said that they will not utilise coercive measures to ensure compliance and increase vaccination rates. We are in a very fortunate position to be able to discuss and debate the roll-out of a vaccine. What a marvel.
I read that 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated with the covid vaccine before we can return to normality, I hope that take-up will be higher than 70% by the time the roll-out is complete.
Qantas airlines has said that it will not carry passengers who cannot prove that they have been vaccinated. We do not know yet if that is a knee-jerk reaction, if Qantas will be a lone voice, or if individual businesses will seek to impose conditions on the public to access their services while the vaccine is rolled out. I honestly doubt that that will happen. It seems unlikely that businesses will be able to legally insist that those whom they employ must be vaccinated.
Nobody denies that people have the right to refuse the vaccine, but insurance companies will surely levy higher premiums for life and travel insurance for those who do not take up the vaccine, because they operate on the basis of risk.
What I have heard from constituents and what I have read is that the overwhelming majority of people want to stop having to worry about this virus. They want an end to the restrictions that we face as soon as that is safely possible.
Many have contacted me—I am sure that I am not alone in the Chamber in saying this—to ask whether, in the roll-out of the vaccine, we could include, as a priority, those who are living with a terminal condition, which makes their vulnerability to the virus very concerning. I share the view that those who are living with a terminal condition ought to be prioritised for receiving the vaccine.
The hon. Lady has outlined a concern on behalf of those who have terminal illnesses. The families want to enjoy that bit of time with their loved one as well. We can never ignore their feelings and input into this, either.
Yes. I would expect and hope that anybody whose immune system was compromised would be prioritised in the roll-out. That is important, because those people have to be able to enjoy whatever time they have.
There is a minority—I believe it is a minority—of people who are concerned about the vaccine’s safety and/or efficacy. As we have heard, there is a job to do in convincing them that the vaccine is safe.
However, that may not always be easy, with disinformation and conspiracy theories thriving on the internet. I had no idea there were so many self-styled experts without any medical or scientific expertise expounding their view that the vaccine is not safe, but that is not surprising, given that they are probably the same people who, throughout this entire pandemic, have been perpetuating the myth that the covid-19 virus is some fictional, mythical dark conspiracy. We know that those who expound these bizarre theories are in the minority, but they manage to reach and even convince some people, and they frighten people.
GPs have raised concerns with us about the new rules being brought in late in the day, so that vaccinations will take twice as long, as patients need to be observed for 15 minutes.
Again, that might be on very good public health grounds, but I am keen to know from the Minister what they are. We know that general practice per designated site has to deliver at least 975 vaccinations over a 7 day period.
Turning to the substance of what these 300,000 people have asked us to discuss, at the root it is about vaccine hesitancy. It is very easy to talk about the anti-vax elements. I am glad that colleagues have not majored on that, because to an extent that is a straw man. Multiple hon. Members made contributions about just how thin the basis for those conspiracy theories or anti-vax sentiments are. We could spend all day deconstructing them and never lose the argument, but that concerns only a very small proportion of the British people.
We know from polling, and from our constituency mailbags, that those people are a very small group indeed. There is a much more significant and noticeable chunk of people—though far from a majority—who are vaccine-hesitant, and entirely reasonably.
There is a pretty broad political consensus against compulsion, coercion or inconveniencing people into submission. I know what our position is as the Opposition, but no one studies what the Government say more closely than we do, and I have never detected a desire for mandatory vaccination in what they are saying.
I hope that business will take the same view.
People’s unwillingness to take the covid-19 vaccine has a knock-on effect on vaccine hesitancy more generally.
Last year, vaccine hesitancy was in the World Health Organisation’s top 10 threats to global health—it was up there with a future pandemic. It is something that we have to address, whether it is related to covid-19 or not.
In Denmark in 2013, false claims in a documentary about the human papillomavirus vaccine led to a decline in uptake of around 90% among some cohorts. Similarly, between 2014 and 2017 in Ireland, vocal attacks on the HPV vaccine from the anti-vaccine lobby led to a drop in uptake from 70% to 50%. These things matter.
What we see through those developments, and through our experiences in this country, is that the best method of countering those views is through proactive, positive health-promoting campaigns. I know that is something the Government are doing, and it is very welcome.
I will hopefully address the excellent—as always—speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) both for her excellent speech and for her clear confirmation that neither the Scottish Government nor the United Kingdom Government will mandate vaccination at all.
At each point in the pandemic, every decision we have taken has been with the utmost consideration for its impact on our personal freedoms. The petition that we are debating is a matter of great legal and ethical complexity.
Before I address some of those complexities, I will set out the facts.
First, there are currently no plans to place restrictions on those who refuse to have a covid vaccination. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington reminded us, we have no plans to introduce so-called vaccine passporting.
Mandating vaccinations is discriminatory and completely wrong, and I urge businesses listening to this debate to not even think about that. I will explain in further detail why that is the wrong thing to do. I put on record my thanks to Professor Karol Sikora, who has many hundreds of thousands of followers, who quoted me and said I eloquently dealt with the issue. We have absolutely no plans for vaccine passporting.
Secondly, cards that were issued after people got their first covid-19 vaccination have been mentioned on social media. Among other details, they contain the date of their second vaccination. That record does not constitute a so-called vaccine passport.
Even if people are vaccinated, they must continue to follow the rules where they are, and keep taking the common-sense steps that are now so familiar to us—washing our hands, covering our face and making space.
Hon. Members have raised many questions about the World Health Organisation and the required international response. The United Kingdom Government have led the way. We could do even more.
Next year, the UK will take up the presidency of the G7, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North mentioned; we will need to deal with anti-vaxxers nationally and internationally. We look forward to working with many nations on that challenge.
None of this reassures me, despite ministers repeatedly stating they have no plans for restrictions upon liberties or vaccine passporting – the frequent “warnings” sent to businesses appear to me to be the MPs get out of jail free card – passing the buck to private corporate entities to implement via their terms and conditions of business.
The constant slurs towards so called “anti vaxxers” evidenced clearly their feelings with an especially low blow being aimed at Dr Andrew Wakefield whose only “crime” was to give the many parents of vaccine damaged children a voice.
The most chilling part of all has to be the two references to the World Health Organisation:-
- Last year, vaccine hesitancy was in the World Health Organisation’s top 10 “threats to global health”—it was up there with a future pandemic. It is something that we have to address, whether it is related to covid-19 or not.
- Next year, the UK will take up the presidency of the G7; we will need to deal with anti-vaxxers nationally & internationally.
Despite the reassuring words from MPs that there will be no of loss of liberty and they are very much pro freedom of choice – I fear in those two paragraphs alone we have our answer don’t you?