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DAME JOAN BAKEWELL: This vaccine U-turn has left us oldies in limbo


DAME JOAN BAKEWELL: This vaccine U-turn has left us oldies in limbo – we desperately need clarity about our second doses

At my age, the modern world can be confusing enough. But a new uncertainty over vaccines – on which we are pinning so much hope – is only making things worse.

Given that 1.3million of us Britons are over the age of 85, the chances are that I’m not alone in feeling a little disoriented.

A row is growing over sudden plans to change the length of time between the first and second doses of the first vaccine approved against coronavirus, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

At my age, the modern world can be confusing enough. But a new uncertainty over vaccines – on which we are pinning so much hope – is only making things worse, writes Joan Bakewell (pictured)

At my age, the modern world can be confusing enough. But a new uncertainty over vaccines – on which we are pinning so much hope – is only making things worse, writes Joan Bakewell (pictured)

Instead of the second dose being given 21 days after the first one, now 12 weeks are to pass.

As it happens, I had my first dose of this vaccine toward the end of last month, given to me by a friendly young doctor at a clinic in north London.

I was told the second jab would be three weeks later and made a note in my diary. After the gloom of months lived alone in isolation, I saw a glimmer of hope: the prospect that this whole nightmare might soon be over.

I rang a friend who had also had her first vaccine, and we began to plan for a dinner together at the end of January. I let my mind conjure visions of a restaurant table, a tempting menu, a glass of wine. Might our old ways of life be within reach?

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But now, like many of the million people who have already had their first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine, I am in limbo. I’ve heard nothing from my GP or my clinic, and have no idea whether my life will go back to normal at the end of this month, or not until the end of March.

But now, like many of the million people who have already had their first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine, I am in limbo

But now, like many of the million people who have already had their first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine, I am in limbo

Until I do, nothing is certain. The Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, insists that the decision to delay the second dose of the vaccine is the right one, adding that the ‘public will understand and thank us’.

Since a single jab is a lot better than no jab, the idea is to give as many people as possible the first dose in order to offer as much protection as possible for the most vulnerable.

I would never argue with that: it’s a thoroughly good intention. And of course I’ll follow the rules, whatever they are. I would be delighted for others to be made safe and to wait my turn for a second dose.

The Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, insists that the decision to delay the second dose of the vaccine is the right one, adding that the ‘public will understand and thank us’

The Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, insists that the decision to delay the second dose of the vaccine is the right one, adding that the ‘public will understand and thank us’

But we desperately need clarity. My sense of limbo is worsened because some doctors’ leaders have now spoken out, saying they believe that delaying the second jab is ‘grossly unfair’ and ‘undermines the vaccine programme as a whole’.

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Throughout the pandemic, my rule of thumb has been to trust the scientists, not the Government. Science is based on verifiable data, and if that data changes the scientists will tell you.

Politics is less straightforward: there are other considerations in play. Any crisis demands clarity and leadership, but sadly we are lacking in both.

The Government’s endless U-turns – of which this new vaccine rule is only the latest – have become ever more of a strain the longer the pandemic has persisted. 

Trying to maintain equilibrium, a steady mind, is made so much more difficult when we don’t get the help and advice we need: and for those of us who are older and living at home alone, the stress is that much greater.

With a new year comes hope and expectation, but we are living in a state of flux.

So let the Government’s resolution be to make clearer decisions and give all of us more transparent information – starting with the vaccine.

Dame Joan Bakewell is a journalist, author and Labour peer



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