There is a co-ordinated and comprehensive effort, in both the media, and politics, to lay the blame for Ireland’s apparently renewed Covid woes at the feet of the unvaccinated. That was always predictable, and, of course, it will be popular. From the beginning of the pandemic, Ireland has not been short of scapegoats: At various times, media attention has focused on the “irresponsible” young, the “reckless” rugby fans, the “selfish” people going overseas on holiday, and even, at times, the foreigners entering the country and bringing Covid with them. So, it was always inevitable that the unvaccinated would get their turn in the national stocks, so that respectable commentators can fling rotten vegetables at them:
Leo Varadkar tells the Dáil if everyone was vaccinated there would probably be 25 people in ICU and 200 in hospital. Says it's a personal decision but one that impacts other people
— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) October 14, 2021
It is, obviously, very important to try and divine whether Mr. Varadkar’s claim is correct. Persistently, across the western world, unvaccinated people have been reported to be taking up a vastly disproportionate number of hospital and ICU beds, compared to their share of the population. There is no evidence that any of these reports are flawed – though vaccine sceptics tend to dispute them by wondering whether people with one dose of the vaccine are counted as “vaccinated” or not. That seems to be a tendentious and relatively unimportant argument at best, since the number of one-dose people is tiny, and they would not, under any normal medical definition, be counted as “vaccinated”. The evidence is fairly clear, and indisputable, that far fewer vaccinated people end up in hospital with Covid than those without a vaccine. Any argument about those numbers is around the edges, at the very best.
But there are other factors, which Mr. Varadkar does not mention. One of those is that an unknown, but almost certainly substantial, portion of those without a vaccine have already had Covid 19. Look, for example, at Irish striker Callum Robinson, who bases, he says, his decision to go jabless on the fact that he has had covid twice. According to the science, his immunity is superior to that of a vaccinated person.
Another factor is that those without a vaccine are in disproportionately low-risk groups: The biggest single chunk of unvaccinated Irish people are children. Another big chunk are under 30. These people face very low risks of hospitalisation, and death, from Covid – comparable risks, in fact, to those of a vaccinated older person. The vaccine lowers, but does not eliminate, risk in at-risk populations. People who already have low risks may well have made an informed decision that it simply did not make sense for them.
Some of those people, of course, may have been wrong. Another group, of unknown, but likely small, size, refuses to take the vaccine because they have safety concerns which seem, at least to me, to be unfounded. And they may end up in hospital.
But that brings us to the most important point of all: Given that those who have not taken a vaccine have, in almost all cases, made a personal choice not to do so, what basis, if any, exists to implement restrictions on the rest of the population?
The bottom line is this: Covid 19 has been in Ireland for well over a year and a half. The Government has been granted, by the people, huge concessions, and time and space to fix the problem. Businesses closed. People cancelled weddings. They buried their dead alone. They put their lives on hold. And all of it – all of it – was to buy time for the Government to get a handle on the problem. 90% of us, according to the Government, took a vaccine when we were encouraged to do so. And in that time, given by the public, at huge cost, to the Government, what has been done?
Has ICU capacity increased? Have we more hospital beds? Have we made major investments in Covid wards?
The Government has been given every tool that it needed. Time. Space. Almost limitless money. And yet still, for the second consecutive winter, the only tool it has at its disposal, apparently, is more restrictions.
And the blame for this, they say, goes on a tiny sliver of the population which, for good reasons and bad, none of which are any of our business, has declined to get a vaccine.
It is a scapegoating exercise. Nothing more. And it is the latest in a long line of scapegoating exercises by the Government, and their all-too-regular allies in the Irish media.