Our obsession with Covid has allowed other diseases to thrive

The news that polio has been found in Britain for the first time in 40 years is a worrying development. But sadly, it is not surprising to the many experts who have been warning of the unintended consequences of our narrow focus on Covid-19. 

Last summer, we were specifically warned that children were not getting vital vaccines for cancers, meningitis and other devastating conditions such as polio. It was revealed that globally, 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines in 2020. This represented a major regression on routine immunisation programmes after so much progress had been made to protect against catastrophic but preventable childhood diseases. 

Here in the UK, children were also missing out on crucial vaccines, with the JCVI raising their concerns in a June 2021 meeting. They outlined a decline of approximately 20 per cent in the number of secondary school pupils receiving shots for HPV, meningitis and the three-in-one booster against tetanus, diphtheria and polio. 

Are we now paying the price of the worldwide Covid obsession? By throwing endless resources at the pandemic response, we disrupted access to routine healthcare and crucial immunisations. The stay-at-home messaging kept patients away from appointments and convinced health practitioners that it was appropriate to postpone their services. 

The JCVI suggested vaccination fatigue could be to blame for a decline in children getting jabs, but perhaps more seriously, there has been an erosion of trust in the powers-that-be. It would hardly be surprising given the unprecedented coercion we have seen employed to get the nation vaccinated against Covid-19. Jabs for jobs, Covid passes and threats of mandates, far from convincing the sceptical, have sown deep-rooted doubt in not just this vaccine, but all others. 

Incentives directly targeting Covid-19 vaccines at children have been particularly shocking to witness. This is a jab that we were originally told by Kate Bingham, Chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, would be “an adult-only vaccine, for people over 50”. Such an unethical approach was always going to be profoundly damaging to long term trust in our regulators and health services, along with the medical interventions they promoted. 

Earlier this month, the Covid jab was added to the online NHS list of routine immunisations for children despite the fact that the JCVI only advised a non-urgent offer as a one-off response to the pandemic. Healthy children are at extremely small risk of suffering serious illness from Covid, and the vast majority now enjoy robust natural immunity. The benefit to children taking this vaccine is unclear while at the same time there are numerous known adverse effects and possibly more that have yet to be discovered. Without a clear and reasonable rationale for this policy, is it any wonder that parents are now losing confidence in all childhood vaccination programmes? 

The Covid pandemic saw one condition prioritised above all else, including life-saving vaccinations against childhood diseases. The return of polio could well be the latest example of how this approach created collateral damage that was entirely avoidable. It is time we acknowledged that our cure has been worse than the disease, especially for children. 

We need transparency. We need integrity. We need clarity and bold leadership from those in charge; only then can we begin to restore the faith that has been lost in the authorities responsible for protecting and promoting public health. 


Esther McVey is the Conservative MP for Tatton and Co-Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pandemic Response and Recovery

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