'This manipulative policy is predicated on the hunch that young people are less vaccine-averse and so will override any misgivings their parents might have'
Dear Boris, are you sitting comfortably? Well, enjoy it, because you won’t be once you’ve listened to this complete mother.
I am furious with you. Horrified, in fact. This current heatwave has nothing to do with a dry anticyclonic spell; it’s my off-the-Scoville-scale incendiary rage that’s sending temperatures rocketing.
Here’s why. My younger daughter returns to school this week. Aged 12, she is deemed too young to buy a gerbil or to have a legitimate Snapchat account (yeah, right). She is not old enough to do a paper round, much less spend her pocket money on fireworks. Not only does she still watch CBBC, frankly being allowed to go to a shopping center with her classmates is still a big deal to her.
But “thanks” to your Government’s effrontery, she and her peers will probably be given the choice about whether to receive vaccinations against Covid – no parental consent required. Come again? Just when I thought you’d availed yourself of every cock-up and conspiracy known to politics, I find myself reeling at your latest omnishambles.
On Friday, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and the three other chief medical officers in the devolved nations will finally decide whether 12-to 15-year-olds should be offered jabs.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has already stated that children would be able to get the vaccine against their parents’ wishes if it is made available for their age group. How dare he?
Forget the ideological furore over the National Insurance social care hike. It is the contempt with which you are treating this nation’s mothers that have marked your card among women like me. Let politicos and commentators lambast you for selling out the fundamental tenets of conservatism to their heart’s content. My beef with you isn’t theoretical – it’s not rooted in macroeconomics or fiscal philosophy. It’s as up close and personal as it gets and this latest iteration of coronavirus incompetence crosses the Rubicon.
This Government is set to take away our right to decide what is in our children’s best interests. Parents are being disregarded, dismissed, and disempowered.
By shamelessly – cynically – overriding our authority, this edict will destroy trust between generations. By so doing, the Tories are taking a wrecking ball to the family values they claim to espouse to a previously unthinkable degree. I say cynically because this manipulative policy is predicated on the hunch that young people are less vaccine-averse and so will override any misgivings their parents might have about coming forward to be injected.
But my daughter isn’t a young person. She’s not even a teenager. She is a child. My child. How can she be expected to choose between the verdict of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – which last week said jabs were of only marginal benefit to her – and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi and various Sage members, who insist there are compelling, broader societal benefits at stake?
I consider myself to be reasonably informed, but I have struggled with the clash of conclusions and the bewildering blizzard (plus ça change) of contradictory opinions. Dr. David Strain, the co-chair of the British Medical Association medical academics, has claimed youngsters between the ages of 12 and 15 are capable of weighing up the benefits of vaccination against the small risk of serious side-effects.
Purely in health terms, initial data from 200,000 inoculated Israeli children indicates the Covid-19 vaccine has no major side effects and almost no side effects in general.
In June, Israel's government recommended that all 12-15-year-olds be vaccinated CREDIT: JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images
We are lagging behind most of Europe, where at least 29 countries have started vaccinating children aged 12 and over, or are planning to do so in the near future Further afield, Singapore, Japan, the UAE, the United States, China, Canada, and the Philippines have also decided on the same course of action. There is nothing anywhere to suggest vaccinating children is dangerous.
That said, this is about more than mathematical probabilities; it is an ethical quagmire, a matter of morality for adults alone to debate and weigh up.
And what’s worse is that this mixed-messaging disaster was so totally unnecessary. This clash could have been entirely avoided with even a modicum of joined-up thinking; instead, parents have been set against one another and against their own children.
When the JCVI, which is an independent body, published its reasons for refusing to give the green light to vaccinating healthy children – because they are at such a low risk from Covid and the jab would offer only marginal benefit to them – why did it take so long for the Government to respond?
Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Health Secretary to foresee the potential chaos and immediately issue a reassuring – or at least an assured – statement on why No10 was still minded to press ahead with jabs?
Where was the overarching strategy? The carefully managed messaging set in place to ensure the public, parents, understand the complexity of the situation and the reasons behind the highly controversial decision of the government to override expert advice?
I have no idea whether our politicians are clueless or merely spineless. Either way, lurching from one public relations crisis to the next is simply not good enough. For any of us.
As it happens, I believe my daughter should get the vaccine. But that’s not the point. She agrees, repeating the “better safe than sorry” mantra she’s had drummed into her, all her life. That’s not the point, either.
The point is that the state has no business interfering. Until and unless vaccines are made compulsory for everyone, which will never happen (although “never” is an increasingly slippery term among those who govern us), there is no mandate to inject my child without my permission.
Of course, I want what’s best for her. Even if she and her peers are at low risk of infection, the impact of further disruption to education and mental health due to outbreaks and enforced isolations would be cataclysmic.
I’ve seen firsthand how depression, anxiety, and social isolation have cut a swathe through a generation that is more fixated on the alternative universe offered by handsets and smartphones, than ever before. Who can blame these youngsters for wanting an escape? Better safe than sorry; it’s what we mothers tell our children from that very first moment when they refuse to hold our hand or wear a coat. It’s a comforting exhortation that conveys not just caution but cares.
This sort of affectionate fuss is the major bulwark of early years parenting. But as the years pass and our offspring grow and flourish, our maternal scaffolding naturally crumbles away. By the time our teens are old enough to take risks at road junctions and sneer wholesale at the whole concept of wrapping up warm, we are generally resigned to leaving them be. Except when it comes to their health. Here, we will always stand firm.
I make no apologies for refusing to resile. Vaccinations may be right. But your Government is wrong, Boris. In these turbulent times, “better safe than sorry” has a hollow ring. Is it possible to be both safe and sorry? I fear it is; not just for parents but the politicians who would betray us. We will not forget and we will not forgive.