MP’s Notebook: Covid and vaccinations

As I write this article on 23 December, it’s not yet clear whether further measures may be put in place in England immediately after Christmas to deal with the rising number of Omicron cases of Covid. Meanwhile, the devolved governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all announced new restrictions.

Omicron represents a new threat on top of the existing variants of the virus, but we don’t yet fully understand its true nature. So, as we wait for more evidence and for the Government to decide what’s going to happen, people are changing their behaviour, with events and social gatherings being cancelled. This is having a huge impact on entertainment and hospitality businesses in Leeds which rely on this time of the year to make a lot of their income.

The measures that were introduced just before Christmas were actually intended to try and help these same businesses to continue operating, which is why I was surprised that some were so bitterly opposed to them. They were wrongly described as ‘vaccine passports’ as if you had to be vaccinated in order to go to a football match or a nightclub, but that wasn’t the case. All we have to do is to present a negative lateral flow test (which many people are used to doing).

I recognise that some people are very strongly opposed to getting vaccinated, but I voted in favour of the measures because I don’t regard them as somehow representing a threat to our fundamental liberties, as some have suggested. On the contrary, they are sensible and proportionate public health measures.

On the separate issue of whether we should all be required to get vaccinated, I am opposed to this, as is the Health Secretary. Forcing the general population to have the vaccine would not only be wrong but also totally impractical.

Having said that, it’s really important that we do all get vaccinated. It is the most important defence we have available to us in the fight against the pandemic and I got mine done as soon as I was invited. The evidence is now clear that it helps to reduce severe infection and death, and I think we have an obligation one to another to provide the maximum protection against the virus.

Now that evidence has emerged that two vaccinations alone provide less protection against the new Omicron variant, it’s absolutely vital that we all get our booster done because this increases protection against Omicron. It may seem counter-intuitive but even a milder disease can end up claiming lives if there are many more cases because it is so transmissible.

Some people have said to me that it is their own choice as to whether or not they get vaccinated, and that they’re not worried about getting the virus. I think this misses the point about the impact this has on other people. If the total number of cases is higher than it would otherwise be, because some people have decided not to get vaccinated, then this will inevitably result in greater pressure on hospital beds and on NHS staff, which in turn will adversely affect other patients; for example, those whose operations or tests are having to be postponed because more of the health service’s capacity is being taken up by people with Covid, including those who are not vaccinated. And staff being off work because they have caught Covid only adds to the pressure on the NHS.

We all hope that the day will eventually come when we don’t have to think or worry about Covid any more, but in the meantime we must all do our best. And on that subject, I know we’d all like to thank the NHS staff who have been working so hard to get us all jabbed.

One Saturday just before Christmas, I visited the Hunslet Club to catch up with Dennis Robbins. As ever it was full of young people with lots of activities going on. The story of the club’s development over the last 25 years or so is quite remarkable and Dennis and his team deserve enormous credit for the wonderful opportunities they are giving to the next generation. Long may the club flourish.

And finally, the news that Councillor Angela Gabriel wasn’t chosen to be a candidate in the council elections this coming May came as a great surprise to many people. I just want to say that it has been a privilege to serve alongside Angela over the years. She has been a very hard-working representative of the people of Beeston and Holbeck and she has done so much for our community. Thanks for everything Angela, and we all wish you well for the future.