Today marks the first anniversary of the World Health Organisation declaring that Covid-19 was a pandemic.
And to mark that, Chris Brown, Wimborne and Colehill town crier and town mayor’s serjant shares his thoughts on the subject of vaccination.
He is in a position to speak as he missed out on the polio vaccination programme more than half a century ago and he is still living with the consequences.
“I have been perplexed and worried about some of the comments and concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccine that is currently being rolled out in response to the worldwide pandemic. Let me explain a little, there is history involved here; personal experience, a shocking misunderstanding of facts and a profound level of collective ignorance that seems to be gathering pace through social media. A platform which seems to make some people think they are actually more qualified than the doctors and scientists who have studied and researched for years, and really do know what they are talking about.
I do accept that people have valid questions about the new vaccines, the speed in which they have been developed and produced being one of them. Although vaccine development really is more difficult than ‘rocket science’, there is no doubt that the immediate availability of funding from governments, without the usual long and complicated funding application processes, has significantly reduced the most time-consuming aspects of the development of new vaccines. Without these lengthy funding delays, the scientists have actually been able to get on with what they do best, scientific development, the results of which have been the production of these life-saving new vaccines. There is surely a lesson here for the future structure of scientific research and funding in this country, it is common knowledge that actually funding the research is the most time consuming and frustrating area of scientists work and this terrible situation has shone a light on this curiously inefficient system.
There is no doubt that in the past, there have been regulatory mistakes, and even crimes in medical research and development, not just vaccines. The Thalidomide scandal potentially being the most public, scandalous and devastating, and one which has been incorrectly used by COVID-19 anti-vaxxers as an example of the untrustworthiness of the scientific and pharmaceutical establishment. Thalidomide was not a vaccine, this however, does not negate the absolutely shocking way those affected and their families were treated for far too many years.
This brings me to my personal experience, I was born a few years ahead of the treatments that resulted in the Thalidomide births, but shared a lot of time in hospital wards with those who has suffered its effects. My story is grounded in what was chirpily labelled ‘The Summer Plague’ – poliomyelitis. Ever heard of polio? Know anyone who had it? No? Do you know why? Because everyone is immunised against it. That, reader, is why there are no longer any annual summer outbreaks of polio, devastating individuals and families. We have herd immunity thanks to an efficient and effective childhood immunisation programme, which thankfully involves the majority of people. But be in no doubt, anti-vaxxers not immunising their children will weaken that herd immunity and open the door to the devastating outbreaks we suffered in the past.
So back to polio, why do we need to be immunised against it, surely it’s not that bad?
Polio is a devastating, frequently fatal virus that lives in water; in particular it prefers warm water, because that is when it gets a chance to infect more people. Who doesn’t fancy a cooling swim in the summer? But it isn’t really that fussy, and is happy to get you anyway it can if you have the misfortune to ingest untreated, or inadequately treated, water.
The dreadful damage this disease causes is as wicked as they come. Once in your body via whatever water-borne route it shows no mercy. This is best explained by the NHS website which states
‘Polio is a serious viral infection that used to be common in the UK and worldwide. It’s rare nowadays because it can be prevented with vaccination. Most people don’t have any symptoms and won’t know they are infected. But for some people, the polio virus causes temporary or permanent paralysis, which can be life threatening. Cases of polio in the UK fell dramatically when routine vaccination was introduced in the mid-1950s. There hasn’t been a case of Polio caught in the UK since the mid 1980s. But the infection is still found in some parts of the world and remains a small risk it could be brought back to the UK. There is no cure for polio, so it’s important to make sure that you and your children are fully vaccinated against it.’
My story begins with a cold. I was born in September 1956 and was a healthy well- developed toddler who was on the way to walking, when we had a Butlin’s holiday in Prestatyn, North Wales in the summer of 1957. Not blowing my own trumpet, but this is where I won the Bonny Baby Competition. Upon our return home I had developed a cold, and my mother asked our family doctor if it was OK to proceed with the appointment for the new vaccine to protect me from polio. The doctor advised it was best to wait until I was clear of the cold. However, it wasn’t a cold at all because I then developed the classic symptoms of polio, and within days I was in an iron lung unable to breathe unaided and struggling to survive.
There have always been questions of concern relating to the safety of vaccine and it is right for people to ask these questions, but the consequences of knowingly refusing vaccination can be fatal and increase the spread of all viruses. If I had been able to have had the vaccine and avoided contracting polio, I would not have spent much of my youth in hospital, missing out on many ‘normal’ things and having a life time spent in pain, which has been excruciating and debilitating. I have lost count of the number of operations to try and correct the damage left by the polio, I compartmentalise my life into blocks of time spent in different hospitals.
In later life I worked as an independent chairman reviewing cases in child protection and children in care, and was shocked to discover how many children had not completed the routine of vaccinations against killer diseases. So not only were these children at enormous disadvantage from social and family circumstances, they were under considerable threat from completely avoidable ailments. I could go on for hours about this and had many discussions with parents who objected to vaccinations, often through being misinformed by scare tactics. I am pleased to say that I was able to change many of the opinions by simply telling them a little of my own story and what I had been through.
To date I have not heard or seen one credible argument why people should fear the COVID-19 vaccinations, and I urge all to read scientific evidence and dismiss the scare mongering and extremely foolish conspiracy theories that are circulating. Your life and the lives of those you love, your neighbours, friends, people in your community, all those could literally depend in it.”
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