One of the great cautionary tales of the last five years is how political campaigns can start off with what looks like a strong case and end up losing with 48 per cent of the vote. What happened to the Remain campaign is now happening to the campaign to deploy vaccines – and in several countries.
Governments are telling anti-vaxxers that they are stupid; they are exaggerating their case like the French education minister, who suggested that vaccination means that you can no longer infect others. Or they are lecturing people, saying that they should listen to the experts. And when things get really bad, they are talking about compulsion. Compulsory vaccination is the second referendum of our time.
Vaccination is one of the great success stories of modern science. And it is a triumph of German and British science in particular. The focus now should be on making vaccines available to anybody, anywhere in the world, and making all the information about them available. We are not going to fight anti-vaxxer lies with official secrecy.
Remember how the news of the AstraZeneca blood clots leaked almost by accident, when an independent German research lab raised the alarm? At that time, many more doses of that vaccine had already been deployed in the UK. Why did the UK not volunteer that information? They only shared this crucial data when medicine agencies, alarmed by the German research, asked for it. Why not share the data voluntarily? Was the public really not able to handle this information?
And why not admit that there is logically a degree of uncertainty about the long-term side effects of the vaccines? In the German debate about whether to give the vaccine to under-18 year olds and small children, that uncertainty is at least acknowledged by officials. It is logically also true that the risk of a side effect from a vaccine relative to the risk of severe illness from Covid-19 is different for children than for older adults.