This article was published in the Mail on Sunday on 09/01/2022. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street.
Like so many people, I’ve been appalled by the behaviour of anti-vaccination fanatics, who’ve been causing senseless disruption in recent weeks, at schools, testing centres and even a children’s pantomime.
I saw for myself how dangerous they could be when protesters arrived at my house last weekend, telling my young daughter that her father was a murderer.
We know that these radicals are a small minority of a small minority. Most people who have not yet been vaccinated have genuine concerns and are not extreme anti-vaxxers like those who targeted me.
But we need to call out the dangerous nonsense pushed around by some, because the case for getting the jab has only become more overwhelming.
Billions of people across the world have now had a Covid vaccine, and over a year since they started going into arms here in the UK, the impact is clear.
Recent data from the UK Health Security Agency shows that people who have not been vaccinated are up to eight times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid.
We also know that in England as many as 90 per cent of Covid patients admitted to intensive care last month hadn’t had a booster and more than 60 per cent hadn’t had any vaccination at all.
We’ve heard tragic stories from those working on the frontline that intensive care units are full of patients who wish they could go back in time and get vaccinated, but that it’s sadly too late.
However, people who don’t get the jab are not only putting themselves at risk, they’re putting this nation’s recovery at risk too, leaving us exposed to the powerful force of this Omicron wave and future potential variants.
On Friday I visited King’s College Hospital in London, where I heard from clinicians on the front line about the intense pressures they are facing this winter.
This pressure will only intensify over the next few weeks, and every person we keep out of hospital through a simple jab means a bed for another patient, whether it’s for Covid or for non-Covid care.
One consultant told me his team estimated a shocking 70 per cent of Covid patients taking up beds in intensive care were unvaccinated.
Their choice not to get vaccinated has clearly taken a toll not just on them as individuals but on wider society. And yet that same consultant later told me that he still hadn’t had a vaccine.
This shows how much we still have to do to make the case for everyone making that positive decision to get the jab.
I am a passionate believer in individual liberty and people’s ability to make choices about what’s best for them.
So although we’ve seen plans for universal mandatory vaccinations in some countries, I would never support them here; and it was important to me that the Covid Pass should have a testing route to proving eligibility, not just vaccination.
That belief in freedom goes hand in hand with a belief we all have a duty to use our freedoms responsibly, so as not to threaten the safety or freedoms of others.
Choices have consequences – so now is a time for choosing. The unvaccinated must acknowledge that the reason they could have a Christmas without last year’s curbs is because so many made a different choice.
If we allow the protective wall we’ve built through the vaccination programme to weaken, we’ll all be at risk.
We’ve reached the milestone of nine in ten eligible over-50s getting boosted in England, but for as long as there are people unprotected, there’s more work to do.
This isn’t just a job for Government. Every one of us has a part to play, and those in the public eye have a particular responsibility to show leadership and use their influence for good. It’s been disappointing to see Novak Djokovic, with a huge global following, fuelling scepticism about vaccines.
But we can’t rely on public figures alone to show leadership. Most of us know someone who hasn’t got the jab and everyone can do their bit by helping address concerns they may have – whether a family member or a friend.
Tackling disparities between communities is something I care about deeply and although we’ve seen some monumental progress, we cannot deny there are worrying disparities in vaccine uptake.
I’m proud to be the first Health Secretary from an ethnic minority, and I’d say to anyone who’s unsure about getting the jab: let’s make sure that the devastating and disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on our communities doesn’t become greater.
Please get the jab if you’re eligible, and if you’ve had it, persuade your loved ones to do the same. It might not be an easy conversation, but it could save their life.
Vaccination is one of the most important choices we will make. So please do your bit to help us withstand the Omicron wave, and keep this country safe and free.