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Vaccine Reflections

March 2, 2021 9:47 AM
By Councillor Tim Lockington

Tim Lockington in coatVaccine reflections - from Ipswich Liberal Democrat Chairman Councillor Dr.Tim Lockington

I am not an algorithm!

Do you remember the Drama series "The Prisoner" and the memorable line, centre stage, "I am not a number, I am a Free Man"?

The good news BIG NUMBER story of the vaccine roll-out is a rare success in the management of the Coronavirus epidemic in this Country.

With the main exception of the NHS and Care Home Front-lines, the Government has chosen to use age but not the risk of exposure, in its continuing vaccine roll out. This should be a matter of concern.

I am in mercifully good health. I have the privilege of a garden and the security of a regular pension. I have been able to continue much of my Borough Councillor work using my home computer. I have not needed to put myself in harm's way.

I received my vaccine nearly a month ago because I had turned 65 a month earlier. I did not have the option to postpone my vaccination and donate it, instead, to my younger son.

He is a peripatetic school music-teacher visiting several schools during his working week. To do battle on behalf of our Nations' childrens' education, he is required again to "go over the top" into the coronavirus war-zone. He is required to do this by our Government without the most modern protection available (ie. vaccination).

When I was a trainee Doctor in Geriatric (older peoples') medicine, my Professor was an epidemiologist. He was interested in the Health of the Population rather than individual patient care. He liked to tease us with the observation that it was a good water supply, food, housing etc. that saved lives, not doctors.

The last thing I needed to know, working with the challenges faced by someone trapped by complex Health problems, was that person's date of birth. I did not wish to use a simple number to influence my advice.

The science of Population Health is vital. Over the last century it has contributed massively to the change in life expectancy in the UK.

It should not, however, replace the science of the personal medicine that doctors use in their day-to-day work. No-one has ever had their Parkinson's Disease fixed by an algorithm. The two Health Sciences should work side by side.

When I reflect on the choice not to give the latest protection to Public servants like the Police and Teachers, required to risk exposure in their vital work on our behalf, I am depressed and angry. Our Government has chosen to use the KISS principle (Keep it simple, stupid) in a very complex situation. This may help to build a big number to boast about, but it ignores the tragic trail of collateral damage that has touched so many lives through lack of attention to detail.

The use of "age" instead of "risk of exposure" is certainly simple but there is absolutely no reason why both principles could not be worked on together to provide the best available protection for the "front-Line" alongside the continuing roll-out of the vaccines, using the age-related algorithm.

I strongly support the universal availability of the vaccine. I recognise that supplies need to be managed and targeted as we work towards universal access. In creating a smart algorithm there are least two principles to consider.

Firstly, there is the risk of damage from infection and this has largely governed vaccine policy. Age is an important factor but it is certainly not the only one. Some factors such as certain long-term illnesses have been taken into account, but others such as ethnicity and poor economic circumstances have not.

The second factor relates to risk of exposure and asymptomatic spread. This has been managed by Lock-downs and by testing, not altogether reliable, but has not featured in vaccine policy.

We come out of the latest lock-down without the potentially game-changing provision of vaccination for those most likely to reignite the epidemic, ie. people with a high risk of occupational exposure.

This Government's continuing choice to "Keep it simple" carries the risk that the exceptional death and long term damage that this Country has experienced, a BIG Covid number filled with personal tragedies, will start to grow again because occupational exposure has not been built into our vaccine algorithm.

I want a Government that does not regard me as a number. I am a unique individual, living in what should be a benign liberal democratic state. As a citizen, I have a personal responsibility to care for and about the freedom, health and well-being of my fellow citizens and the world we share.

Although I would have preferred others to have had a higher priority than me, saying YES to vaccination is very much a part of that responsibility.