Refusing to be vaccinated is a deeply anti-social act

HOORAY – spring is coming, the lockdown is easing, and we retirees are slowly emerging, like hibernating animals from winter seclusion. But some are bolder than others. I chair the local branch of the University of the Third Age, a national organisation with around 200 Jersey members, which promotes lifelong learning, fun and friendship among those who have reached their ‘third age’, either because they are retired, semi-retired or have finished raising their families. So I have seen a range of responses from ‘third agers’ to the relaxation of Covid restrictions.

Anne Southern..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30441896)
Anne Southern..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30441896)

Some have been shielding for a year, and are naturally hesitant to take any risks. Some are confused about just what is allowed – do you still have to socially distance indoors? And if so, why does a group of ten not have to distance from each other in restaurants? How much household mixing is allowed? Some are not going to meet indoors until they are fully protected by their second vaccine, while others just can’t wait to abandon the dreaded Zoom and meet in person.

We are torn about the opening of our borders, with some, including me, desperate to see their families outside the Island, and others fearful of new strains of the virus being allowed in.

I have been taking a middle view. I’ve found that the regulations have allowed me to meet friends for walks and games of tennis; they allowed me to see my family in the UK and in Jersey last summer, and even allowed a holiday in Madeira over Christmas. But I am heartily sick of restrictions, and can’t wait to get to the gym again. I sympathise with young people, for whom a year is a big chunk of their lives; but for us oldies a year is a big chunk of whatever active and healthy life is left to us.

So the vaccination programme, our passport out of these difficult times, is indeed a blessing. All our u3a members have been offered at least one dose and are feeling much safer. But I have a dilemma – should we allow refuseniks into our groups? I have to say that I get very hot under the collar about people who refuse (without a good medical reason) to have the vaccine.

It is the lack of logic in their reasoning that makes me so angry. The main argument seems to relate to people being careful about what goes into their bodies. But Covid-19 is a sneaky little virus that can easily find a way into your body – the risks if this happens are well known, whereas the vaccine has been thoroughly tested and shown to be safe and effective.

I have heard someone say, ‘I have a good immune system’. But you get immunity by being exposed to viruses, and no one yet knows how individuals’ immune systems will respond to this one. I have heard, ‘I’m old, so it doesn’t matter what happens to me’. But what about the risk you pose to others, and to the medics who won’t just leave you to die?

Some say excluding the unvaccinated is discriminatory. But our laws only protect those characteristics that people have no choice over: sex, age, race and disability. Why should those who wilfully disregard their safety and that of others be free from ‘discrimination’.

Many say it is a matter of personal choice. But when we live in a society, there are many aspects of life over which we have no choice: to pay taxes, to drive within the speed limits, to wear seat belts, and to refrain from a range of anti-social behaviour. To refuse to have the vaccine when it is offered is deeply anti-social, endangering not just yourself, but others, especially those few who are unable to have it for genuine medical reasons. We should not be free to cause harm. We have all learned that mask wearing protects others more than ourselves, and universally accept it as a condition of entering public spaces. Similarly, being vaccinated protects others. Medical opinion states: ‘Until everyone is safe, no one is safe.’

As with the measles jab for children, it is important that those who can safely have the vaccine should do so to create the herd immunity that protects the small number of children who can’t. Thanks to vaccines, smallpox and polio have been virtually eradicated.

Before travelling we check which vaccines are needed, and accept that there are countries that we cannot visit without a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate. So we shouldn’t object if we need a vaccination certificate to travel on planes, and, when things open up more, to enter nightclubs and cinemas. This should be a necessary condition of mixing with others.

So you’ll forgive me if my personal choice is not to socialise with those who put their own feelings ahead of the general good.

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