If the vaccine is our saviour what is the tipping point when restrictions can be lifted?

If the vaccine is our saviour what is the tipping point when restrictions can be lifted?

by Michelle Ballantyne
article from Thursday 21, January, 2021

THE EMERGENCE of Covid-19 and its subsequent variants has seen decisions being made that would have been unthinkable only a year ago. The idea our liberties could be restricted, our livelihoods threatened and our children’s education disrupted is the stuff of nightmares. And yet as a population we have been asked to step up and many have had to make sacrifices they did not choose to help save the NHS and protect lives. 

In less than a year several vaccines have been produced, this is nothing short of incredible. Normally the discovery and research phase of developing a vaccine is two to five years with up to ten years to complete testing and achieve licensing. If this vaccine delivers successfully it will have set new standards of expectation.  

Given that the Government’s strategy for dealing with the Covid virus is predicated on the vaccination of the population it has also become an essential means to get us out of the devastating cycle of restrictions and lockdowns. 

Having spent over 25 years of my working life in the NHS, both as a nurse and as a manger, I am very familiar with the challenges of managing the annual winter bed crisis. I feel for the staff that are having to work not only under the pressure of large volumes of patients but are also having to work full time in PPE, which without a doubt is both uncomfortable and restrictive. There is also an emotional toll not only due to the personal risk to staff but because they are often the only people available to distressed and terminal patients as their relatives are obliged to stay away. How cruel for everyone involved. 

But the stress to medical and care staff is not just in treating those patients with Covid. For many it is seeing their patients’ treatments and surgeries delayed and the knowledge that the backlog is growing and will take many years to address – which for some people will come too late. 

In terms of the vaccine I do not believe that the Scottish parliament is the right place to make detailed decisions about its administration as politicians are not equipped with enough understanding and clinical knowledge to do so. All we can do is consider first principles. 

I support the general principle of offering it to the most at risk first but I am also clear that the vaccine should not be compulsory but should only be administered with informed consent. 

So I want to hear from the Scottish Government to confirm this will be the case – and hope for an unambiguous answer. 

Perhaps most importantly we need to understand what the tipping point is for the removal of restrictions and a return to normality. 

How many people have to be vaccinated before we can see the lifting of restrictions – not just the lockdowns but the rolling back of the tiers too? 

When will the Government feel confident that the risk to the NHS has been reduced and the risk to life from Covid supressed sufficiently? We need to have goalposts rooted to the ground – not ones that can be moved so the ordeal never ends. 

The speed of delivery and the assurance of being able to get children back to school and businesses back operating to minimise job losses not to mention the reinstatement of routine health care should be all our priorities. Surely there is no one that believes we should still be wearing masks in six months, never mind this time next year? 

I do have concerns about the strategy that has been used to manage this crisis – I am concerned a swathe of evidence has not been given adequate consideration in the decision making process.  

Studies such as those carried out at Stanford University alongside others published in respected publications such as the BMJ and European Journal of Clinical Investigation point to the conclusion that Non Pharmaceutical restrictions such as lockdowns do not show a strong statistical relationship between lockdown policies and the desired solution of relatively low Covid death rates – or the suppression of the spread of the virus.  

In short, lockdowns don’t do what is claimed of them. 

Worse still, there is growing evidence of the medium and long term consequences on the health and economic well-being of society that is appearing as a direct result of the lockdowns.  

After months of restrictions, school closures, heightened fear and worry, young people are now reporting the highest ever levels of mental health issues.  

Preventing young people from having face-to-face social interaction with family and friends by limiting gatherings to two people from two households, as well as removing access to organised exercise will further exacerbate the isolation and hopelessness these young people are feeling particularly at this time of year when meeting outside is often not practical. 

Removing the right to attend worship, which of course is enshrined in law – particularly when houses of prayer have taken every care to ensure the safety of their flock – only adds to the stress that many people are experiencing and removes the support and reassurance that many people value.  

Having searched through the evidence the Government has referenced I could not identify any substantive evidence that would suggest attending worship creates an unacceptable risk. 

For those reasons, I voted against the government’s particular SSIs when they came to Parliament on Wednesday. The Scottish Government and all MSPs have to question the difference lockdowns really make to the war on Covid – or whether they unnecessarily bring collateral damage to the efforts to supress the virus? 

It is my view the damage wrought by lockdowns will be far worse than the direct consequences of Covid-19 and those delayed outcomes will almost certainly be the biggest challenge facing the politicians that sit in the Scottish Parliament following the elections planned for May.  

My questioning of the strategic approach in no way belittles the awfulness of Covid-19 – but should help focus the minds of those responsible for driving the strategies to consider all the evidence available to them on what works best to tackle this crisis – as this may not be the last virulent virus we have to face within living memory.  

Michelle Ballantyne is a member of the Scottish Parliament for the South of Scotland and leader of Reform UK Scotland. 

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