Thank you for your round robin contacting me about health and social care workers receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. I understand why you’ve written and the philosophical argument about this. The freedom to choose is a vital part of democracy in most instances.
Nor has he introduction of this policy been taken lightly. The Government consulted extensively with lots of different stakeholders, and used their feedback to inform the legislation. The question of balance was always going to be about the balance between freedom of choice about vaccination and protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Many of us scrutinised the proposals closely.
Your round robin concludes: “A large number of People currently supplying services and goods to care homes will stop doing so, putting the care and health of care residents SIGNIFICANTLY AT RISK, with resulting failures in care and POSSIBLY DEATH which will be of your making.”
Let’s leave aside the questionable attempt to pin individual health issues as effectively a manslaughter charge against MPs who voted for those entering care homes to have to be vaccinated. I haven’t yet seen any MP charged with murder for eg government decisions to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan (a rather more direct link to physical risk) so I discount such aggressive rhetoric, and would be happy to defend myself if it ever came to this.
But how about the opposite charge:
“A large number of People are currently resident in Care Homes, where the supplier of the service has a specific responsibility to care for the resident. You had the chance to ensure that all those working there directly or indirectly would be vaccinated if they worked with these or could come into contact with these vulnerable residents, in order to reduce sharply the chances of residents catching the virus. Yet you chose not to: voting for freedom of choice thereby putting vulnerable residents SIGNIFICANTLY AT RISK, with resulting failures in care and POSSIBLY DEATH, which will be of your making.”
That is I think (although equally unlikely in law) a more powerful moral case, because those in Care Homes have no alternative but to accept whatever risks come physically close to them - which is why so many died in the first phase of the Lockdown.
So which risk should take preference – putting residents being cared for in Care Homes at risk, or upsetting the principles of antivaxxers supplying goods or services and caring for the residents?
It is to my mind a no brainer, especially now that we know so much more about the virus, the risks and how to mitigate against them, that you put the weak and vulnerable first. They have no options: they cannot up sticks and move. If the antivaxxers do not want to put the wellbeing of Care Home customers above their concerns about the vaccine, then they have the option to go and work with other customers and away from Care Homes. They have a choice, and they can opt for freedom in another sector without such vulnerable customers. But eg elderly people with dementia or younger residents people with learning difficulties should not, in my view, be potential casualties to views on vaccination and freedom.
So if I am asked to choose between the two, as I was, in the binary decision of a vote, then I am clear who (at the margin) I should be supporting – the vulnerable who have no choices.
These measures have been approved by the House of Commons and are subject to a 16-week grace period (which gives time for those who wish to find separate employment to do so), and I hope this makes clear why I voted as I did.
I have no doubt it was the right thing to do, but of course it was and is a decision which divides opinion - and I regret that I could not in this situation satisfy those who, completely understandably, want to decide themselves whether to be vaccinated or not and believe in the freedom of choice.