Anti-vaxxers aren’t to blame for rising measles cases

The UK Health Security Agency is sufficiently concerned about the growing number of measles cases in the West Midlands that it declared a ‘national incident’ last week. According to official figures, there have been 216 confirmed and 103 probable measles cases in the region since last October. The cause? The uptake of the MMR vaccine is at its lowest level in more than a decade, according to Dame Jenny Harries, CEO of the UKHSA. For some, this is proof of the ‘harm’ that anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists can do if greater efforts aren’t made to silence them. A leading article in the Times blamed the outbreak on ‘disease disinformation’, accusing

Our new house needed us – and we needed the house

The light does such magical things on this hillside that, as I walk the steep narrow lanes between fields, I can’t take my eyes off a distant, golden-topped mountain range. At night the sky is so clear I wander into the garden and stare at the northern star, bright and low. I saw in the local paper that we got the northern lights the other evening: streaks of blue and green over the harbour. Everything seems such a riot of colour and flavour here. I look around me and despite the views, I also see the funeral cars going up and down the lanes The food tastes precisely of itself,

Vaccines disguised the errors of our lockdown policy

Liz Truss’s statement that she would never authorise another lockdown and The Spectator’s interview with Rishi Sunak have triggered a new debate about whether the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were justified. The most widely discussed positions are that lockdown occurred too late or that there should never have been any lockdowns at all, alongside the view that what happened was about right. But there is another position here – in many ways perhaps the most obvious position – that rarely gets an airing. When lockdown was first introduced, Boris Johnson said the point was to ‘squash the sombrero’ of cases, so that the peak number of hospitalisations each week

Tony Blair’s Covid grift

Have we yet seen the end of Covid restrictions? It is tempting to think so. For many people, Covid and the lockdowns have receded into history, replaced by Ukraine and the energy crisis. It would be easy, but foolish, to dismiss Tony Blair’s proposals as the ramblings of a bored ex-PM But perhaps we have parked the whole business in our memories a little too soon. Some are already pushing for restrictions to be re-enacted this winter. The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has just published a paper, Three Months to Save the NHS, demanding that the government consider re-imposing mask mandates on public transport and other enclosed settings.

Why I won’t have a Covid booster

In the news recently, we’ve heard from multiple Britons who’ve lost family members or sacrificed their own health to Covid’s not-really-vaccines. But anecdotes lack statistical heft. Sceptical viewers might too easily dismiss individual stories of the harms caused by the biggest inoculation rollout in history as freakish aberrations, mere coincidence (could relatives who happened to have been recently vaccinated really have died from something else?) or put it down to the cost of doing business at scale. An official UK government report recently said that more than 2,200 Britons may have been killed by vaccine-induced injuries, but there’s plenty more hard evidence in governmentally collected databases that these fatalities are

I stink at virtue signalling

The lodger looked at me blankly and pronounced wearily, as though intoning something he was tired of parroting, that I was putting vulnerable people at risk by not having the vaccine. I stifled a yawn. Can anyone really still think this? A half-hearted argument of sorts ensued while I was washing up and he was heating his microwave dinner in which neither of us could really be bothered. I tried to politely point out that it was a good job an irresponsible person like me was so foolhardy and fearless about Covid or he would not have found a room in the middle of lockdown, especially since he works at

The heroism of Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic’s readiness to walk away from tennis on a point of principle is an act of sporting heroism on a par with Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam war. Like Ali was when he said he had ‘no quarrel with them Viet Cong’, Djokovic is widely accepted to be the greatest master of his sport of all time. Ali, then at the height of his powers, was banned from boxing for three years for his stance. For refusing to take a Covid vaccination — a matter of conscience — we don’t yet know for how long Djokovic will be prevented from playing tennis at the highest level.

Why should we listen to celebrities over Joe Rogan?

I’m boycotting Spotify. I am doing this for the same reason as I don’t have a Netflix subscription: I refuse to subsidise the efforts by Harry and Meghan to monetise their royal fame. If either company terminates its relationship with the couple I will consider using its services, but for the moment I will stick to YouTube. But no, it wouldn’t be a problem for me that Spotify hosts the Joe Rogan podcast – something which I admit I have never listened to, but which seems to have upset Harry and Meghan, as well as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. The day we banish people from spouting unpopular opinions, even

The NHS vaccine mandate was bound to fail

Health Secretary Sajid Javid now looks set to drop his plans to sack unvaccinated NHS staff. It was almost inevitable given the practical difficulties that come with sacking more than 70,000 workers who showed little sign of changing their minds — all while the NHS is desperately trying to catch up with missed treatments following the pandemic. Javid is expected to say that the far milder Omicron variant has changed his calculation: Covid is no longer a threat that would necessitate compulsory vaccination. In reality, his bluff was about to be called. NHS staff would have to be vaccinated by Thursday to be double-jabbed in time for the 1 April

I got Covid (again) – is it time I got jabbed?

I got Covid a couple of weeks ago. Second time for me, which was annoying because I’d told Caroline that natural immunity provided better protection than the vaccines. She’s the only member of our household who’s been jabbed and began to feel quite smug as we all tested positive, one after another. It didn’t matter how much data I presented her with showing how quickly vaccine effectiveness against Omicron wanes, not least because I couldn’t prove I’d got Omicron. As far as she was concerned, I’d lost the argument. While I was ill I read the following sentence in an article by Ed West, which put the wind up me:

Letters: Our broken civil service

Beyond the party Sir: Rod Liddle is spot-on in arguing that the attitudes revealed by ‘partygate’ extend to senior civil servants (‘The truth about that No. 10 party’, 15 January). He gets the extent wrong by tarring all public-sector workers with the same brush, which would include all NHS workers, and is not true. What is true is that the attitude has indeed spread in the civil service well beyond the public school and Oxbridge-educated elite. I spent a couple of years seconded to a department of state, trying to make progress on implementing reforms that had been approved by parliament. I failed. I was eventually blackballed for speaking truth

Why should I be sacked for refusing the Covid vaccine?

A few months ago, Sajid Javid was asked how he could justify sacking unvaccinated care home workers if they had been infected with Covid and had natural immunity. The Health Secretary replied as if such people were plainly idiots. ‘If they haven’t taken a vaccine — despite all the effort that’s been made to persuade them, encourage them, provide them with information, introduce them to trusted voices — then at some point you have to move on.’ By ‘move on’ he meant thousands of them should be fired. NHS staff are next in line: we have until 1 April to get jabbed or get out. On a recent visit to

Which prime ministers have faced the longest wait for honours?

Waiting for the gong Tony Blair was knighted, 14 years after leaving Downing Street. How long have other ex-PMs had to wait to be honoured? Edward Heath knighted in 1992, 18 years after leaving office. Harold Wilson awarded peerage on leaving Commons in 1983, 7 years after resigning as PM. Jim Callaghan awarded peerage on leaving House of Commons in 1987, 8 years after leaving office. Margaret Thatcher awarded peerage in 1992 on leaving House of Commons. John Major knighted in 2005, 8 years after leaving office. Said to have rejected peerage on leaving Commons in 2001. Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and Theresa May are still waiting. Unjabbed nations How

Will Trump’s pro-vaccine stance prove his undoing?

Donald Trump famously boasted that he could ‘stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody’ and still not lose voters. That was back in 2016 and the following years proved his point. We are now in the winter of 2021, however, and the 45th president may at last have stumbled across a way to alienate his fan base — by endorsing vaccines. Covid is today the most hostile frontline in America’s all-consuming culture war. Resistance to the national vaccination drive has become the stickiest point. You are either pro-freedom or in bed with the Great Globo Pharma Conspiracy. Trump has adopted a more middle-ground position: encouraging people to take the vaccines while

Portrait of the year: Lockdown, protests, parties and Matt Hancock’s kiss

January The United Kingdom found itself in possession of a trade agreement with the EU. Coronavirus restrictions were tightened. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was administered with authorisation for the first time; retired doctors could not vaccinate before undergoing ‘diversity’ training. To prevent vaccines being exported from the EU to Northern Ireland, the EU prepared to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, but soon changed its mind. The Capitol in Washington, DC was overrun by weird people, one with horns, supporting President Donald Trump, despite his electoral defeat. Joe Biden was inaugurated as President a week later. February The government promised to legalise the drinking of coffee by two people

Why I prefer to rely on natural immunity

‘Did you hear it?’ said a friend of mine, red-faced with the flush of a piece of news she couldn’t wait to offload, as she rushed into a church hall where we were attending an event. She was bursting with excitement because a mutual acquaintance had just been on a radio phone-in show banging the drum for the vaccine. I confessed I had not heard it, because I had no idea she was planning to go on. But it didn’t surprise me because this lady has had a go at me for being ‘one of those anti-vaxxers’ because I won’t have the jab — mainly because I’ve recovered from Covid.

Punishing the unvaccinated threatens everyone’s liberty

How should we treat the unvaccinated? Should we stop them from participating in normal life? Castigate them in the media? Mandate they get vaccinated or block them from accessing NHS services? It’s a creeping question across developed countries — asked on Good Morning Britain’s Twitter page yesterday, and then subsequently deleted. Germany has barred the unvaccinated from most aspects of public life, including shops and restaurants. Greece is charging the over-60s Є100 for every month they remain unvaccinated, with money going to top up the health services. In Singapore, the unvaccinated will no longer have their Covid care paid for by the state. A letter in the Times this week suggested

Boris’s booster bet

Boris Johnson is relying heavily on the booster programme to protect Britain from any additional threat posed by the Omicron variant. The Prime Minister made that very clear at this afternoon’s Covid press conference in Downing Street, opening by saying that ‘there is one thing we already know for sure: right now, our single best defence against Omicron is to get vaccinated and get boosted’. Temporary vaccination centres were going to pop up ‘like Christmas trees’, he said. He also seemed committed, if not to boosterism in the form of unbridled optimism about how the next few months would go, then at least to a reluctance to tell people to change

Can boosters save us from further restrictions?

The JCVI has announced that all over 18s will be offered a booster jab and that the gap between the second dose and the booster shot will be halved from six months to three. Those with weakened immune systems will be offered a fourth shot and 12 to 15-year-olds a second dose of vaccine. These announcements are clearly in response to the Omicrom variant, which appears to spread particularly quickly. Jonathan Van-Tam likened its effect on the UK’s response to the virus to a football team going down to ten men. In recent months, the UK — and in particular, England — has had a heavily vaccine-based strategy for living

My post-vaccine chest pain and a desperate search for answers

Four months ago, I had my second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. I work for the NHS and fully support Britain’s vaccination campaign, so it was a simple decision for me to make. I had no problems with my first dose and I knew that the vaccines have been found to be highly effective and safe, preventing up to 96 per cent of Covid hospitalisations. The day after my second dose I began to feel some aches and pains, but I gave little thought to the vaccine and carried on as normal. Four days later though my chest was seriously aching. I tried various stretches and painkillers but my