While we have been agonising about a largely manufactured fuel crisis, something serious has happened which very few have noticed.
The UK’s vaccination programme against Covid-19 has virtually ground to a halt.
Only last week Boris Johnson was again boasting about the wonders of the UK’s vaccine roll-out, which he claimed has outshone the rest of Europe. It did, but alas no longer.
Countries once derided as laggards, whose health services were supposedly unable to get enough needles into arms, have now overtaken this country.
France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Denmark have a higher proportion of their populations double-jabbed than the UK.
According to the Government’s figures, the daily number of vaccinations has dwindled from hundreds of thousands a few months ago to tens of thousands today.
On Saturday only 27,675 people received their first dose, and 33,926 their second.
By contrast, booster or top‑up doses for already double-vaccinated over-50s are proceeding apace. On Saturday 153,160 of them were administered in England.
You may say that the reason for the falling numbers for the first and second jab is that most adults over the age of 16 have received both of them, and so fewer people are turning up at vaccine centres. This is of course largely true.
The fact remains that there are well over five million folk over the age of 16 in the UK who aren’t double-jabbed, and are thereby putting themselves and their fellow citizens at unnecessary risk.
Stephen Glover: The UK’s vaccination programme against Covid-19 has virtually ground to a halt
We hear about it all the time. Several England football players are refusing to be vaccinated, though the manager, Gareth Southgate, claims he doesn’t know who they are.
Three senior team members are said to have insisted they are too healthy to suffer from Covid.
At the BBC, at least two professional dancers on Strictly Come Dancing have refused the vaccine, which has understandably unnerved other dancers and contestants. The Beeb is reportedly considering a ‘no jab, no job’ rule.
Meanwhile, an estimated 14 per cent of care home workers, amounting to hundreds of thousands of people, have still not been fully vaccinated.
The Government has imposed a legal deadline of November 11 for all such staff to be jabbed.
Why is there a widespread reluctance across the country to do what to the rest of us looks like common sense?
I suppose some of them genuinely believe the anti-vaxxer scare stories being spread by silly people who should be ashamed of themselves.
These include deliberate scaremongering about the negative side-effects of various vaccines.
Preposterously, some anti-vaxxers actually claim that simply being in the proximity of someone who has been jabbed can damage a person’s fertility.
Some people will accept any claptrap. But I can’t believe that the majority of these five million-plus refuseniks can have a lot of faith in the most extreme alarmist nonsense.
I suspect some of them are too lazy to bother to go along to be vaccinated. Others, like those England footballers, wrongly maintain they are immune from the worst effects of Covid, and are too selfish or arrogant to submit to a jab.
In other words, there are still many unvaccinated people who may be amenable to reason. And that is why I am baffled that the Government is not doing more to convert them.
Compulsion is obviously out of the question in a free society, though I can’t see why employers shouldn’t insist on their staff being vaccinated.
I also think the Government is justified in insisting on the same requirement in care homes. Residents have the right to expect that protection.
But explanation and persuasion are the best approach. Back in 1986, the authorities launched an advertising campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of AIDS, about which little was then known.
‘Don’t die of ignorance’ was the memorable slogan. Leaflets were posted to every household.
What is needed now is a calm, clear and balanced exposition of the dangers of remaining unvaccinated so that the reluctant can be induced to think again.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, people who were fully vaccinated accounted for only 1.2 per cent of deaths involving Covid-19 in England in the first seven months of this year.
More evidence has just come from NHS North East London, which disclosed on Saturday that out of more than 200 patients with Covid in intensive care during July and August, over 90 per cent were not fully vaccinated.
The lesson is surely clear. It is possible to be double-jabbed and nonetheless die from the effects of this awful virus, but it is very unlikely.
It is much more likely that you will die if you catch the virus and haven’t been vaccinated.
In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that unvaccinated Americans have died at 11 times the rate of those fully vaccinated since the Delta variant (the one we have here) became the dominant strain.
Nor should younger people assume that they are immune. Cases of ‘Long Covid’ are relatively unusual for them but far from unknown.
Although fatalities in that age group are extremely rare, they do occur.
The tragic death last week of a 15-year-old girl from Covid‑19, on the day she was due to be vaccinated, shows that even teenagers can be at risk.
Jorja Halliday had no known underlying health conditions.
Just how the Government could get its message across more effectively, I leave to others to decide.
Plentiful use of social media for the young, I would have thought, and a mixture of leaflets and television and Press advertising for recalcitrant older people.
I don’t at all suggest that one-sided propaganda should be deployed.
The facts should speak for themselves, and acknowledge the infinitesimally small risk of death from having a jab — while stressing that for most age groups the risk of not having it is significantly greater.
All this is particularly important because low vaccination rates are not the only evidence being ignored.
This country’s infection rates and incidence of Covid-related deaths, though pretty stable, are among the highest in Europe.
For example, in Italy the daily infection rates are about ten times lower than the UK’s; in France, between five and six times lower. In both countries there have been many fewer Covid fatalities in recent weeks.
The explanation can’t be their higher vaccination rates, since the difference with ours is only slight.
Better weather in France and Italy so that people have been spending more time outdoors? Much more widespread use of masks and vaccine passports in those countries?
Whatever the reason, with winter coming the Government is in no position to be serene.
My fear is that, if infection and death rates do climb over the next couple of months, the familiar doomsters will call for tough new restrictions, not excluding lockdown, which would take us back to square one.
That’s why vaccination is so crucial. Amid his many other tribulations, Boris Johnson must remember the pandemic hasn’t gone away.
Covid may be cowed but it’s not beaten yet — and won’t be until the Government persuades more people to be double-jabbed.