The news that polio has been diagnosed in Britain for the first time in 40 years is a worrying development. But sadly, it’s not surprising to the many experts who have warned about the unintended consequences of our narrow focus on Covid-19.
Last summer, we were specifically warned that children were not being given vital vaccines against cancer, meningitis and other devastating conditions like polio. It was revealed that 23 million children worldwide will have missed primary childhood vaccinations by 2020. This marked a major decline in routine immunization programs after so much progress was made in protecting against catastrophic but preventable childhood diseases.
Here in the UK, children were also missing out on crucial vaccines, and the JCVI expressed their concerns at a meeting in June 2021. They outlined a drop of about 20 percent in the number of high school students receiving injections for HPV, meningitis and the three-in-one. a booster against tetanus, diphtheria and polio.
Are we now paying the price of the global Covid obsession? By committing endless resources to the pandemic response, we have disrupted access to routine health care and critical vaccinations. The stay-at-home messages kept patients away from appointments and convinced health professionals it was appropriate to postpone their services.
The JCVI suggested vaccine fatigue could be responsible for a decline in the number of children getting shots, but perhaps more seriously, there has been an erosion of confidence in those in power. It would hardly be surprising given the unprecedented coercion we have seen used to get the nation vaccinated against Covid-19. Jabs for jobs, Covid passes and threats of mandates, far from convinced the skeptics, have sown deep-seated doubts in not just this vaccine, but all the others.
Incentives directly targeting Covid-19 vaccines in children have been particularly shocking to see. This is an injection that we were originally told by Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, that it would be “an adult vaccine, for people over 50”. Such an unethical approach would always be deeply 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 NHS’s online list of routine childhood vaccinations, despite the JCVI only advising a non-emergency offer as a one-off response to the pandemic. Healthy children are at extremely low risk of 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 side effects and possibly more 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 programs?
The Covid pandemic saw one condition above all, including life-saving childhood vaccines. The return of polio may be the latest example of how this approach caused collateral damage that was completely avoidable. It’s time we recognized that our cure is worse than the ailment, 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 lost faith in the authorities responsible for protecting and promoting public health.
Esther McVey is the Conservative MP for Tatton and Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pandemic Response and Recovery