I had expected to be sent back to Leeds for my second Covid vaccination, but the choices this time appeared to have been selected at random by one of those ping pong machines they use to pick the lottery numbers. It didn’t really matter – I’d have gone anywhere that had needles to spare.
The same is not true though of others in the Bradford district, where the take-up figures betray a postcode lottery all their own.
Where I live, about 10 miles out of the city, some 92.5 per cent of adults over 40 had been vaccinated at least once, as of last weekend. That leaves seven-and-a-half per cent with questions to answer about social responsibility, but it’s not a bad average.
But closer to town, the statistics tell a different story. In the populous inner-city districts of Girlington and Barkerend, nearly half the eligible adults have failed to roll up their sleeves. Around the university the take-up is lower still, with 51 per cent remaining unvaccinated.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Bradford had one of the highest Covid infection rates in the country last month.
Given the risk to national recovery posed by the latest strain of the virus, this is a situation that is not just unsustainable and irresponsible; it’s legitimately criminal, or ought to be. We face the real possibility of community-minded people being asked yet again to put their livelihoods on the line in order to protect people too obstinate or stupid to protect themselves.
It’s hard to understand why vaccine refusal has become so institutionalised in Northern neighbourhoods characterised by houses and flats in multiple occupancy and by limited access to online resources. The authorities have traditionally found it difficult to engage with such communities, but they are going to have to try anew. You can’t have herd immunity if half the herd is in a different field.
It is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the roots of refusal are almost as old as witch-burning and scarcely more credible. In the 19th century, when it was made a legal requirement for British infants to be vaccinated against smallpox, a self-righteous organisation calling itself the Anti-Vaccination League of London rose in revolt. More recently, a deeply flawed piece of research in the Lancet attempted to link autism to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Its author, the gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, was struck off the medical register but remains an influential figure among conspiracy theorists and the terminally gullible.
The fear and distrust exploited by charlatans through the ages is now coming home to roost, and the likely consequences of allowing communities to remain isolated in their ignorance are social as well as medical. Any sense of national healing will be supplanted by distrust and enmity. That’s why it’s important for the Government to create a new fork on its road map to recovery – one which removes as much of its customary ambiguity as possible and commits the country to isolating and containing pockets of resistance, not submitting to them.
That ought not to be hard, because the principal casualty will be the health service, which already shoulders the burden of caring for those with avoidable ailments – smoking, violence and excessive drinking being among the chief causes. The NHS has, with difficulty, adapted to those impediments through the years, and it will have to readjust once more.
That is certainly preferable to expecting the rest of us to go about our business after June 21, when the restrictions are supposed to end, with the threat of renewed curfews, or even lockdowns, hanging over our heads.
Besides, is the new variant necessarily something we should panic about? Only 31 cases had been identified in Yorkshire by midweek; that’s 31 too many but far fewer than a winter flu epidemic.
Back in Bradford, the likely shortness of the queue this afternoon will tell its own story. By all accounts the clinic will have more vaccines than takers. Perhaps its selection was less random than I thought.
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