I didn’t expect to write this blog post, but I feel I should after the soundbite of me appeared on bbc news. I have avoided talking about covid, restrictions, origin hypotheses, and the vaccines because of how polarised a topic they can be, and the silencing and admonishment of views that run counter to the “mainstream”.
However when I saw a BBC article saying a vaccine mandate will forced upon NHS staff or they will lose jobs, my rage forced me to message the BBC to say it was a shocking abuse of power by the government, and that it didn’t seem they will take into account natural immunity from previous infection, so it wasn’t even scientific. I told them the media should be reporting this and I guess that’s why they asked me to be the face of this opinion, and be interviewed on TV.
Unfortunately they used only a 20 second clip of me, rather than a thought out nuanced argument. (Also I had all of about 30 minutes to even think about what I was going to say on national television). The media thrives on soundbites, on part-explanations, on lack of nuance. I’ve despised how the media has contributed to the silencing of opposing views, and the dehumanization of anybody who thinks differently, without actually giving everyone all the facts and information. At the same time, I felt it was the right thing to do, because who else was going to speak out against the mandate? People are terrified; to go against the grain is to take a big risk, but it goes against every fibre of my being to go along with groupthink when it doesn’t feel right or good or just.
Anyway, I wanted to explain in more detail what my actual argument was. While I have tried to avoid reading any comments or social media I have inevitably come across the fact that my message has been misundersttod and distorted, and for many people the entire focus has been on “look, an unvaccinated doctor!” rather than my MAIN point which is that vaccine mandates are unethical and WILL lead to a slippery slope of erosion of basic medical rights and freedoms. Before I make my points, I would also like to point out that I am NOT against covid vaccines at all. They have saved many lives, and are an important tool against this virus, especially for vulnerable people. However nothing is good or necessary for every single person; I have made a fully informed and well thought decision for myself based on my personal medical history, my health and other factors, and others should have the right to make the decision for themselves. I’m open to debate, discussion and changing my mind on anything I’ve stated in this blogpost, because having an open mind, and avoiding dogma is paramount to this conversation.
So here are some points:
1) Forcing or coercing people into medical procedures against their consent is UNETHICAL.
This is outlined in the Nurenburg code, this is drilled into every medical student and doctor from day one. So why suddenly is it accepted for one group of people? And if this fundamental value is eroded even slightly, whose to say it won’t be eroded further? I have seen (and experienced) coercion of medical procedures without fully informed consent, and since becoming a mother have heard countless stories of women who have experienced birth trauma from forced medical procedures and lack of consent. The fundamental right of body autonomy is a standard we should uphold, and instead, over the past two years I have seen it being eroded. You can’t mandate things that have risk ESPECIALLY when we know that if anyone in the NHS who is forced to have a shot, and then has a severe side effect will be offered zero support or compensation. Furthermore, you may think it’s great to mandate vaccines because you are in favour of them and think they are great for society, but mandating ANYTHING only sets a precedent that the government can mandate further things, even ones that are dangerous. It’s not about the vaccines, it is about mandates. I love exercise, it saves many lives, and is virtually risk-free but it would be equally preposterous to mandate exercise. Furthermore, a mandate just risks losing a significant percentage of staff during a pandemic. If you want people to do something you want them to do, give them information, and act compasionately; don’t impose draconian totalitarian rules and threats on good people.
2) Natural immunity is real.
I have had COVID, as have many other NHS staff, and we know that for many people, this offers strong protection. Some argue that the protection wanes, but so does vaccine mediated immunity (which is why there is a push for boosters). This preprint from Israel suggests natural immunity reduces re-infection and severe illness from the delta variant 13 times MORE than vaccine mediated immunity (the data suggests natural immunuty wanes over time too, but slower and from a higher baseline than vaccine mediated immunity). I am aware that other studies suggest vaccine mediated protection may be stronger, however the key point is the answer is not cut and dry; there is still ongoing debate. You can’t assume that everyone vaccinated is fully protected and those who were recently infected weren’t. This doesn’t jibe with the data, and if you don’t have nuance in a conversation about science and public health, how can you expect people to just accept a forced shot? You need flexibility, and to give people the opportunity to show that they have antibodies from natural infection, or have a negative test, or can protect patients in other ways. To say there is only ONE answer to a complex problem is to ignore real world data.
3) Further to the above point.. it is still possible to catch and transmit the virus if vaccinated
Yes, you reduce your chances of infection and transmission, but breakthrough infections are not as rare as you’d want them to be. I caught covid from my double vaccinated husband, and know many people who caught and were able to transmit the virus after full vaccination. Breakthrough infections are much more common than for other vaccines like Hepatitis B , MMR etc, especially with the new variants. How effective will they be with the next variant? If regular testing, masks, washing hands, having natural antibodies, having strong baseline health etc also reduce catching and transmitting the virus why do they suddenly not matter?
4) Other things matter for immunity
Vaccines are wonderful tools for protection against pathogens, but having a erobust and strong immune system is important too. What’s been strangely missed this pandemic has been the opportunity to educate and encourage peopleto eat healthily, exercise, take supplements like vitamin D, vitamin C, Omega 3s, lose weight, sleep well etc . There is evidence that these things protect against severe covid and improve the effectiveness of vaccines. Ofcourse these things are more difficult and can be slower than taking a vaccine, and not everyone can do them, but many people (including me) take every step possible to protect their health and maintain a strong immune system. Again, I’m calling for nuance and taking into account individuals – why is it accepted that someone who eats junk food, sleeps terribly, and has a chronic disease like diabetes can trust their vaccine mediated immunity totally, whereas someone like me who has previousely breezed through Covid and takes utmost care of my health can’t?
5) Not every unvaccinated person is a crackpot conspiracy theorist
We all know how much misinformation there is out there, and many people’s reasons for not vaccinating are based on lies. But honestly, what do you expect when trust in government, the media, scientific bodies and pharmaceutical companies has been eroded? Still, there are many valid and well thought out, well informed reasons to not get vaccinated; like everything to do with health and science, it is not black and white. Yet for some reason, intelligent, informed people are lumped in with “misinformed conspiracy theorists”and are attacked and dehumanized. Even if people have terrible reasons for not getting vaccinated, and are putting their own lives at risk, it is up to them to make the decision. The ability to consent to medical treatment is a human right. Even if you think these people are stupid, please have compassion and understanding for other humans and their right to disagree with you. The divisiveness and polarity of society right now is leading to dehumanization, hate and fundamentalism. It is interesting to see (but not hard to understand when you know about history) how FEAR completely hijacks and destroys people ability to think rationally and have compassion.
6) But what about other mandatory vacinations for healhcare workers like Hepatitis B?
First of all, these mandatory requirements are known about when someone starts a job; if they disagree they can choose a career elsewhere. It is not the same as introducing new requirements when people have dedicated years of their life to a career; many of whom would never have joined this career if we knew we would be sacrificing our bodily autonomy for life. You could argue that ANY mandatory medical procedure is unethical, and in fact a friend of mine made the point that “if you are forced to sacrifice your own body autonomy, how can you be expected to respect others’?”. Not to mention there are differences between the Hep B and Covid vaccines, which I won’t go into here.
7) Everything has risk, and we can mitigate risk without taking away peoples rights to body autonomy
The pandemic has shown there are two types of people; those who are extremely afraid of any risk, and as such are even willing for government to take complete control, and restrict their freedoms in order to avoid risk, and those who value freedom and are willing to take risks to protect these freedoms. We have to balance the needs of both kinds of people, because at the end of the day, everything done during this pandemic benefitted some people and harmed others. For example lockdowns disporoportionately affected the poor, domestic abuse victims, children etc. Vulnerable staff are at risk from patients (and will continue to be). There is no one, correct way to do things that is going to please everyone. Nothing is without risk, and therefore we HAVE to have open conversation. In terms of forced vaccination of NHS staff, the risk of losing 10% of an already understaffed broken workforce is huge (and I would argue more of a risk to patients). As for those who will reluctantly take the jab to avoid losing their job, this will add to the resentment and poor mental health that many staff already suffer from, working for a system that doesn’t care at all about their health and needs. Many argue that this is an excuse to break the NHS further in order to allow privatisation, but who knows. If the worry is about the unvaccinated staff spreading covid to patients, why let them work through the winter when everyone is at most risk? Obese people and older people are known to be more infectious, does this mean she should fire all obese and elderly staff? Covid will be endemic and almost everyone will be exposed to it some way or another. All I know is that when you take a step back to look at the bigger picture, this mandate makes zero sense.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there. The last few days I have received OVERWHELMING support from people in the public who agree with me, many of whom are double vaccinated but vehemently against mandates. I’ve heard from nurses, physiotherapists and other doctors who will resign. I’ve heard from many who are too afraid to speak up. I’ve heard from people who are struggling with the decision to lose their career/income or lose their bodily autonomy. I feel for everyone in my position, especially those not privileged enough to be able to leave their job, like I intend to if it comes to it. The NHS has never been a fulfilling supportive place to work in, and for me this is the final straw – I can practice holistic and functional medicine elsewhere. Medical freedom is important, and I will fight for it. Whether you agree with the mandates or not, all I urge is compassion, understanding, and appreciating that this is a big complex world which nobody knows all the answers to.