I got Covid a couple of weeks ago. Second time for me, which was annoying because I’d told Caroline that natural immunity provided better protection than the vaccines. She’s the only member of our household who’s been jabbed and began to feel quite smug as we all tested positive, one after another. It didn’t matter how much data I presented her with showing how quickly vaccine effectiveness against Omicron wanes, not least because I couldn’t prove I’d got Omicron. As far as she was concerned, I’d lost the argument.
While I was ill I read the following sentence in an article by Ed West, which put the wind up me: ‘An unvaccinated man in his fifties has about a one-in-150 chance of dying if he catches Covid, and is much more likely still to be hospitalised, put in ICU and left prematurely aged.’ He didn’t give a source for the one in 150 figure, but that was on the high side, surely? Concerned, I commissioned a professor of epidemiology to calculate Omicron’s infection fatality rate for my Daily Sceptic website and he came up with 0.04 per cent, or one in 2,500, a figure that includes the vaccinated. Slightly higher for men in their fifties no doubt, but not one in 150.
However, the second part of Ed’s sentence — that the unvaccinated are more likely to end up in ICU than the vaccinated — is probably right. Was that where I was headed? I know, I know. My chances of being hospitalised, let alone put on a ventilator, were low, assuming it was Omicron. But what if it wasn’t? Or what if it was and I just got unlucky? I could picture the newspaper headline: ‘Unvaccinated lockdown sceptic in intensive care with severe Covid.’ It wouldn’t be long before the BBC’s Clive Myrie was standing at the end of my bed, microphone in hand, asking me how I felt about not being jabbed.
This, for me, is the best argument against remaining unvaccinated. Not the risk of being in ICU and left ‘prematurely aged’ or worse, but the absolute certainty that if that happened I would be ridiculed mercilessly by my enemies. Totally undeserved, of course. I’m dubious about the effectiveness and durability of the Covid vaccines and concerned about the lack of medium- and long-term safety data, but I think of myself as a ‘vaccine sceptic’ rather than an ‘anti-vaxxer’ — and even that is over-stating it, as I’ve got nothing against the MMR. Nevertheless, you can bet your bottom dollar that if I was hospitalised with the virus I would be branded a ‘leading anti-vaxxer’ and pilloried accordingly. In the eyes of the vaccine enthusiasts, anyone who expresses the slightest smidgen of doubt is a science-denying ‘conspiracy theorist’ and if they’re laid low by Covid-19 that’s divine justice.
Thankfully, I was positive only for a few days and the symptoms weren’t that different from a winter cold. No headaches or fatigue, merely a sore throat and a blocked-up nose. My first brush with the disease back in March 2020 was like being shot with a tranquilliser gun; this was more like a pin prick. Was that my natural immunity kicking in? Or is the Omicron variant just very mild for the majority of people? Hard to say, but I don’t know anyone who’s had a tough time with it, including unjabbed first-timers.
So the question is: will I now get vaccinated? On the one hand, I’ve had Covid twice and that means I’m at least as well protected as someone who’s been double-jabbed. True, another new variant could come along that my antibodies don’t recognise, but then it would probably evade the vaccines too. I may be in my fifties but I’m not in a high-risk group and even if I do end up in hospital Covid can now be treated with anti-virals. As for the argument that I’d be taking up an NHS bed that could be used by someone else, I’ve recently joined Bupa so that doesn’t apply. No, I feel strongly inclined to postpone the decision about whether to get the vaccine until we have a clearer idea of the safety profile.
On the other hand, I can’t get that image of Clive Myrie out of my head. It would just be so humiliating. As I’ve got older, my fear of embarrassment has increased and it’s hard to imagine anything worse than lying in a hospital bed with acute Covid, my phone going off the hook: ‘This is the Guardian, we’re running a story about Covidiots who regret not being vaccinated and wondered if you’d like to comment?’ Am I prepared to risk myocarditis to avoid that fate, however unlikely? It’s a very tough decision.
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