Further to my last contribution to this column, when I commented on my colleague Andrew Bridgen’s speech in the commons about the safety of Covid vaccinations, I have, over the last few days, had a stream of outraged emails after the Government whip was withdrawn from him.
When I first heard the news I was about to explode with indignation too. Freedom, of speech (however, one may disagree with what is actually said), is an essential element of our democracy. One of our most important parliamentary statutes, the Bill of Rights 1689, is explicit:
“freedom of debate and speech in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place other than in Parliament’
I quickly recovered from my apoplectic fit when I discovered what had actually happened. Mr Bridgen did not have the whip withdrawn for the questions he raised in Parliament, rather it was for what he said on Twitter. Frankly, it was grotesque: He quoted a clinician of his acquaintance comparing the Covid vaccine programme with the Holocaust. Whatever doubts one may have about the vaccine, to compare an heroic effort to combat disease -which liberated us from the misery of lock-downs, with a deliberate attempt to wipe out Jewish people, is beyond the pale.
Covid vaccination is voluntary. Patients can make up their own minds about their effectiveness and the risks of an adverse reaction -the statistic for which are available for anyone with an enquiring mind. (I took a very different view when there was the element of coercion involved, with the threat of dismissal for health professionals and ‘vaccine passports’ for the rest of us, but that has all gone).
I am not a clinician but my prejudice is that Covid is insufficiently dangerous to justify a vaccination programme beyond those particularly vulnerable to it. Because of my age I was glad to have mine, but I am sceptical about the benefits for younger people and especially children.
Many vaccinations run the risk of adverse reactions which can amount to an unpleasant few days, to permanent disablement and even death. For our collective benefit we seek to encourage vaccination. So, we really need to address the shortcomings of our vaccination damage compensation scheme: the evidential bar is set too high and the scale of compensation far too low, with the result that claimants face the delays, risks, and expense of having to go to court.
There will always be risks, and I have every sympathy with those who have had adverse reactions, but I remain of the view that the swift roll out of the covid vaccine was a triumph.