In Britain today, we witness how a pandemic like Coronavirus-19 interacts with a dystopian state, where paranoia and misrule preside. Joseph Healy and Rowan Fortune lay out what is at stake.
Since the pandemic’s start, mishandled by the Johnson government and resulting in thousands of unnecessary deaths, the mantra has been that the crisis will all be solved by vaccination. For the first year or so, no vaccine was available, but once AstraZeneca and the mRNA vaccines were released, there was a large vaccination drive and enthusiastic take up.
So far there have also been Spring and Autumn boosters for the elderly and the extremely clinically vulnerable—the last of which was during the Autumn of the previous year. There has always been an assumption behind this approach that vaccination alone will give us a pathway beyond the pandemic, a clean exit from the horrifying reality of a Covid-19 world.
However, other voices, such as Independent Sage—increasingly pushed onto the peripheries of discussion—have consistently argued that vaccines plus should be the strategy. They have noted that without further mitigations, such as masks and ventilation, vaccines are insufficient as the virus is capable of mutation and the immune system of the infected is damaged by each reinfection, increasing the chances of people contracting Long Covid.
Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers have argued against vaccination for reasons ranging from the idea that Bill Gates and others are placing microchips in the arms of the vaccinated, to pseudoscientific claims that vaccination causes blood clots (which is true only for a tiny proportion of patients). They conveniently ignore that Covid results in far more blood clots and that medical research has indicated the enormous dangers it presents to both heart and lung health, especially in the long term.
Centred around conspiracy movements such as QAnon and linked to the far right, the anti-vaxxers gained the ears of UK government ministers early on, including Zahawi and Sunak. It was because of their influence that there was no masking in schools. Sunak was even able to directly persuade Johnson not to have a lockdown before Christmas in 2020, resulting in countless deaths.
Now it would seem the anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, along with the eugenicists who support them, have won their greatest victory. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises government on vaccinations, has decided that all those under 50, including children, will not be vaccinated any further.
Taking at face value the anti-scientific anti-vaxxer argument that Covid is just like flu, the JCVI will allow a dangerous virus with long term health effects to run riot in the population, while also putting no mitigations in place. Only those classified as ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ and over 60 will be allowed a vaccine this Spring, and the Autumn vaccine will only be for over 50s and the clinically vulnerable.
It is known that boosters and vaccines for Covid have a limited lifespan and that after 4 months protection wanes. For many younger people their last vaccine will have been in December 2021 and some of the vulnerable, such as those with asthma, are not classified as being so for vaccination purposes. This will have the effect of offering no protection against hospitalisation and serious disease for the bulk of the population.
Health stats for excess deaths already show a significant rise among younger people and combined with an overwhelmed health system this will mean hospitalisation and Long Covid, with all that entails for many hundreds of thousands. Social murder, Engels’ term for deaths brought about when those with social and political power place the less powerful in positions likely to result in loss of life, is wholly appropriate. The pandemic has rightly already been called a mass disabling event, but to throw away the weapons to fight it now is an act of criminal irresponsibility. The scientists who sit on Independent Sage described the decision as “lunacy”.
Yet the vast majority of the population are blissfully unaware that this decision has been taken at all. Neither the media (that portion of it not fully captured by the anti-vaxx movement) nor the labour movement has been able to rise to the challenge of stirring outrage and resistance to these policies. And because people are not informed, they are inevitably and unwittingly taking part in a huge experiment in eugenics.
While it is easy to feel that the decisions being taken by the JCVI is not especially extreme, given how muted the criticism has been, an international perspective shows otherwise. The only two states in Europe taking this line are the UK and Sweden, joint outliers from the start of the pandemic. In reality, the Tories are leaving most of the British population to stew in their own virus, at odds with neighbouring states. It is neoliberalism pursued to its most logical and fatal conclusion.
This can, however, still be fought, but we are in a far worse position to do so than even at the start. The left must renew its focus on Covid-19 and the reprehensible ways our government mismanage it. However, that means understanding that we have already lost crucial battles against the conspiracy theorists who inform government. We must regain our footing by advocating for both the recommendations of the best science, and for the interests of the whole of society (the vulnerable in the broadest sense, from communities that have been especially impacted to the elderly who have faced nothing less than carnage in care homes).
In 2020 the Great Barrington Declaration was an open letter from anti-lockdown academics who advocated for herd immunity. At the time these signatories seemed to have ultimately failed in their hopes to scupper a vital public health policy, which—albeit far too late for many—Johnson was forced into adopting, with all the usual life-costing ineptitude of his administration. However, today, the monstrous idea of herd immunity has been normalised by stealth where it could not have won-over the public explicitly.
Illuminating these choices and the deaths that result from them is a crucial task ahead of any effective movement for a better world. This is vital not only because of Covid-19, but because the capitalist metabolic-rift that presently ensnares the globe could produce new pandemics of various levels of lethality in the decades ahead. The precedent we establish now could go on to save or damn us in the all too near future. Moreover, this victory over the social good is demoralising to any mass liberatory force in society, weakening our ability to hope for a better future.
For socialists in Britain today, the fight for a vaccines plus strategy is critical. For if we also elect to ignore this calamity, we risk enabling a future without hope.
Republished with permission from Anti-Capitalist Resistance.
Updated 18:44 7.02.2023 to clarify that herd immunity has not been achieved – and cannot be – only normalised.