Where will vaccine passports take us?

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

Desperate to find someone to commemorate with a statue for having done great things, but who isn’t a white male, some people in Devon want to honour a couple of lesbian pirates. A statue of Anne Bonny and Mary Read has been proposed for the beauty spot of Burgh Island, to salute their important work in ‘breaking gender boundaries’ in the 18th century. Their long careers of psychotic violence and theft are easily eclipsed by the suggestion that they liked a spot of how’s your mother from time to time.

A problem here is that there is no proof that they were actually lesbians. A few revisionist historians, of the kind who trawl back through the years in the hope they will find someone who might possibly have batted for the other side, have suggested as much, but that’s about it.

I’ve seen drawings of the two chicks and they do look a bit butch, it has to be said — but then so did an awful lot of women in the 1700s. Catherine I of Russia, for example, looked a bit like David Walliams impersonating a woman, and even our own Queen Anne had a certain heft to her. Women only started poncing themselves up during the Regency period, really.

But being a bit beefy is not sufficient evidence, in my book, for the two of them being lesbians and thus instrumental in ‘breaking gender boundaries’. If they weren’t lesbians then nobody would have thought for a single nanosecond of erecting a statue to them. Your skin colour, your gender or sexual preference are now far more important to the woke authorities than what you have actually done with your life.

But wokeism may have come to our rescue, surreptitiously, on the vexed issue of whether or not we should have ‘vaccine passports’ which allow us to do things in this strange era. Given the undoubted success of the government’s vaccine rollout and the highish take-up rate among those of us who are almost dead anyway, ministers have wondered about the possibility of issuing passports which would enable us to continue with our lives in almost a state of normality. This makes a degree of sense when you consider that the lower down the age range you go, the greater resistance there is to having the jab (for the obvious reason that the virus is not terribly threatening, by and large, to younger people). There needs to be some kind of incentive, then. The government, though, seems to be deciding that this whole tricky issue should be left to individual businesses, institutions, corporations etc — and they are washing their hands of it. Very wise indeed, I think.

The take-up of the vaccine among black and minority ethnic citizens is far, far lower than among whites. A report from North Staffordshire last month quoted general practitioners as noting that BAME people in the area were ten times more likely than their white neighbours to fail to attend vaccination programmes. The government’s own statistics suggest that the take-up among black African and Caribbean people was about 50 per cent — way below the 80 per cent take-up for white folk.

Reasonably enough, the government would not wish to be associated with a programme that meant white people could go pretty much anywhere they liked while ethnic minorities would be corralled in an official ghetto of disease. Even if this vaccine certificate is not government–sanctioned, but taken up with avidity by our beleaguered hospitality industry, and local services and public transport, then within a fairly short space of time the United Kingdom would come to resemble Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in about 1956: whites chowing down in the diner, taking books out of the library, the white children going to the cinema, while the black people are disproportionately absent from such activity, apart from a favoured few. This time around, Rosa Parks wouldn’t even be allowed on the bus, let alone get to choose where she sat. You can see the problem, can’t you? If Black Lives Matter really do think that black lives matter, they should be howling from the rooftops demanding folk go and queue up for their jabs, instead of tilting at imaginary racist windmills and getting cross about statues.

I find the question of why people refuse the jab fascinating: there is no easy, straightforward answer. A survey in the USA by Pew Research back in November suggested that almost 40 per cent of Americans were vaccine-reluctant (the figures have lately decreased a little). Is this, I wonder, because vaccination programmes are not primarily designed to protect the individual, but to protect the community? The USA is not terribly communitarian, as evidenced by their attitudes towards tax evasion (a bloody good thing, in many Americans’ books).

Then there is Europe, where the take-up is again much lower, generally, than in the UK. There seems to be a correlation between countries which have endured long periods of totalitarianism, either under Hitler’s National Socialists or the USSR, and a reluctance to have the Covid jab. Take-up in the central European Visegrad countries is markedly low, for example. The German question partly supports this thesis, with take-up lower in the old East Germany than in the west. But it is confused, too, by the German memory of previous vaccination programmes — for smallpox, starting in the 1870s — which despite the undoubted good they did, riled the population, especially as the vaccine was made compulsory for children and given in schools under the Weimar Republic. Meanwhile, neighbouring Austria at one point had only 17 per cent of its population ‘definitely’ taking the vaccine. Why?

There is also a correlation between low take-up and a mistrust of big pharma and big government, which might explain France’s reluctance. My suspicion, too, is that the high take-up in the UK is at least partly the consequence of a pride in both developing the vaccine and beating the Europeans to getting it delivered.

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