I understand that many people hold passionate views about the steps that they believe the Government should or should not be taking in response to the Omicron outbreak. Indeed, I have received significant levels of correspondence arguing for both no restrictions and much tougher ones.
The Government’s principal goal is to restrict the transmission of this variant whilst keeping as many freedoms as possible in place, in turn supporting the economy and avoiding closure of key services, e.g. schools. The Government’s ‘Plan B’ measures have been implemented for three main reasons – the impression of significantly increased transmissibility of this new variant; the unknown severity of Omicron; and the possible lower immunity from vaccination when compared to past variants.
I should stress that these are precautionary measures. There have been reports that the new variant may be ‘milder’ than others; but we cannot be certain of this at the moment, whereas there are growing signs that this new variant is significantly more transmissible than previous incarnations. This poses the risk that, even if the variant is mild in most cases (and one obviously hopes that proves to be the case), if so many people were to be infected at once it would only take a small percentage of those to require hospital treatment and we would see the NHS genuinely struggling. This apparently realistic possibility cannot simply be ignored by a responsible Government, with all such an eventuality implies for those suffering from other serious conditions.
I should add that I am no enthusiast for ‘locking down’, far from it. I strongly supported the lifting of restrictions in the summer, but always said that the one scenario where we might have to countenance them again were if a new variant emerged that threatened the vaccine shield. That is unquestionably the position we are in, as latest evidence suggests that two jabs offer insufficient protection. The good news, however, is that a third booster jab has been found to offer significant defence.
The Prime Minister has therefore announced an urgent Omicron appeal to get all eligible adults boosted by the end of December, and I would strongly encourage all of my constituents to either attend walk-in vaccination centres or book their jab as soon as possible. You can find more information here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/coronavirus-booster-vaccine/.
I had my own booster jab on Saturday at St Mary’s Church, Hadleigh. The experience was very professionally and painlessly delivered and I pay tribute to the NHS staff and volunteers on site doing their bit in the battle to beat Omicron.
And this is about ‘doing our bit’.
I understand that there is a lot of misinformation circulating on the internet but not only do official statistics show very few cases of serious adverse clinical reaction to Covid vaccines in the UK, but anecdotally I am simply not aware of any such cases, and from what I hear that is true of most of my friends, colleagues and other contacts. Whereas, thousands of lives have been saved in this country with millions jabbed, and for all of us it is the case that unless we have a very specific medical reason not to be vaccinated, it is overwhelmingly in BOTH our own interest and that of wider society to maximise our protection and trust in the brilliant medical science that underpins the vaccine program.
On the specific question of ‘vaccine passports’, it is important to stress that these can be used to show a negative test result and therefore are not actually ‘vaccine’ passports per se. As said, in principle I would prefer not to ‘lock down’ unless there was an overwhelmingly urgent reason to do so, but it seems self-evident that such measures make locking down less likely. Unless one wants to entirely ignore one’s own health and that of the rest of society, it seems unclear to me as to why someone would object both to being vaccinated OR being tested in the context of a rapidly accelerating pandemic variant, about which we still hold relatively slim data.
Of course, I would entirely oppose such impositions if there were no medical need at all, but until we have more evidence of this variant’s underlying impact, it seems reasonable to me to proceed on a cautious basis. This also buys us more time to focus on our overwhelming priority – getting as many people boosted as possible. The same is true of face masks, not something one would want to become a permanent feature of life, but a relatively minor inconvenience compared to the good that they can do in reducing the spread, particularly in crowded places.
Thus, I will be voting with the Government, recognising the extremely difficult balancing act it once again has to strike, whilst doing everything possible to communicate to my constituents the message that we should all be getting boosted – for our sake’s, and that of everyone else we know and love.