OPINION - Evening Standard Comment: ‘Idiots’ or otherwise, we need to win hearts and minds of the unvaccinated

·2-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

The conclusions from scientists in the UK and South Africa are nuanced but hopeful: the Omicron variant may cause milder illness than Delta.

Researchers from Imperial College London have found that people infected with Omicron are 15-20 per cent less likely to require hospitalisation than those with Delta, and 40-45 per cent less likely to spend a night or longer in hospital.

Data from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases is even more encouraging. It suggests that people with Omicron are 80 per cent less likely to be hospitalised compared with previous variants.

However, the scientists, policymakers and statisticians have for weeks been at pains to point out that reductions in severity have to be balanced against the higher risk of contracting Omicron, in part because of lower protection from vaccination and natural infection.

Meanwhile, the timing of the wave, during what is already an exceptionally challenging part of the year for the NHS, will heap further pressure on healthcare capacity.

Covid-related staff absences in London are also a growing issue. ​​Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust, which has been running some of the busiest vaccine clinics in the capital, has been the worst affected, with 515 staff off sick or isolating on Sunday.

The data in the capital is instructive. Cases have sky-rocketed by more than 200 per cent in a week in eight boroughs, to the point that all 12 of the worst-hit parts of Britain are in London. The sheer transmissibility of Omicron is why it is so important to get the fullest protection that a booster shot confers.

Yesterday, Tony Blair called the unvaccinated ‘idiots’. It may be tempting to lose all sympathy with them. Those who refuse a jab are not only putting their own health at risk, they are prolonging the pandemic for everyone and making restrictions more likely.

Yet many are not conspiracy theorists but simply still unsure, or believe vaccines to be effective but worry about safety. We need to win over their hearts and minds.

In our final leader column of 2021, we wish you and your family a happy, healthy and well-ventilated Christmas and new year.

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