Vaccine Apartheid – Eugenics Revisited

Tracing recent developments in the UK's COVID vaccine policies, Joseph Healy argues that enduring ideological influences like eugenics continue to produce discriminatory, economically illogical decisions that restrict access for minority and disadvantaged groups. This toxic combination of eugenics and austerity threatens to make Britain the Sick Man of Europe, with public health and economic consequences enduring for generations.

 

In the Gothic horror story that is UK government policy on Covid little should still cause shock, yet several recent developments have left scientists and health activists agog. At a recent campaign call by Covid Action on developments in Europe, Professor Anthony Staines from Dublin was moved to state that “the UK government’s policy on Covid is insane”. He pointed out that both medically and economically it did not make sense.

This is true but even worse than that it is still driven by a clear ideology which we saw expressed by witnesses at the Covid Inquiry in London and which drove policy in the earlier waves of the pandemic – a pandemic which is far from over. That policy is, whisper its name, Eugenics. It is the ideology which led Johnson to utter his infamous statement about older people that “they had had a good innings” and which led to a situation where 60% of deaths in the first two waves were disabled people.

The latest twist in the tale is the release of the minutes from the JCVI, the body responsible for vaccine policy. Several groups, such as Clinically Vulnerable Families, have been campaigning since the autumn for many of the most vulnerable to be revaccinated. That’s because most people offered a vaccine last autumn were given an outdated bivalent vaccine based on the variants which were circulating in early 2023.

As we know, the virus mutates very fast, which is why there are so many waves each year, and the vaccines have trouble keeping up with this. A new monovalent vaccine was available which was shown to be more effective against the variants dominating last autumn. However, the JCVI decided to use the old vaccines first on cost grounds and proceeded to use this in care homes and with most of the vulnerable cohort. The new vaccine only became available much later in the autumn by which time most of these people had received their jab.

As a result of its limitations, many pensioners and others became sick over the Xmas and New Year period, many reporting that the period of illness lasted longer. Clearly the vaccine continued to save lives but offered limited protection against reinfection and illness and we know that each reinfection increases the chance of Long Covid as well as other long term impacts.

The latest JCVI minutes demonstrate that early this year they were aware of this and discussed revaccinating those who had received the old vaccine. They decided against, not on clinical or even cost grounds but that it would be too much work!! The authorities also announced that all vaccination for the autumn booster would finish at the end of January. Some more savvy individuals realised that the new vaccine was still being dispensed by chemists and went to get it before the deadline. However, the booster was limited to over 65s, those who were immunosuppressed, those who lived with them and health workers. This was a reduction in those eligible from the spring booster.

It has been revealed that a million doses of the new vaccine are being disposed off, which could easily have been giver to the over 50s and to many who received the old, less effective vaccine. The sheer waste and incompetence continues with these vaccines being binned.

Even worse than all of this has been the latest announcement by the JCVI that the spring booster, to be distributed from April will be confined to those over 75 and the immunosuppressed – not for those living with them (often unpaid carers) or for health workers. This is in effect pulling up the drawbridge and limiting those eligible to receive the booster even further. It is a gross denial of the basic idea of public health.

The JCVI and the UK Health Security Agency are clearly basing their policy on the concept of the majority of the population achieving immunity through constant reinfection. This is despite all the scientific evidence demonstrating that this is scientifically illiterate! It also harks back to the original 2020 policy of “Let it rip” supported by Johnson and the antivaxxers.

Given the vast majority of the population haven’t been vaccinated for two years, this is already happening. Hence the big rise in Long Covid cases, excess deaths and big increase in heart attacks and strokes among the young. With no mitigations in place, especially in healthcare and public transport, many are being reinfected several times each year and each infection impacts on their immune system.

The Tories, intent on finishing off the NHS and forcing people into private healthcare, have also announced that from April vaccines can be purchased from chemists for £45 a shot. Thus, the only route for the vast majority blocked from vaccination by the NHS is to seek vaccines privately. This will be a big boost to both the private chemists and to Big Pharma but is a complete withdrawal from the notion of Public Health.

The Covid Inquiry and the statistics from the first few years of the pandemic indicated that those who became ill and died were predominantly drawn from the ranks of the Black and ethnic minority communities, deprived communities and disabled people. Many of these same groups, who are struggling with the cost of living crisis and unable to pay their increasing food and fuel bills,

will not be able to afford private vaccination. Many will therefore remain unvaccinated. Thus the policy of eugenics hits again as many pensioners, the poor, ethnic minorities and disabled will be left to the vagaries infection and the risk of Long Covid and poor health. This at a time when most other countries – France and the USA – are actually extending the availability of the vaccines to groups such as children.

This eugenicist policy is not only a disaster for public health but is also economically illiterate as Professor Staines pointed out. The latest stats from the ONS, which resulted in even Lord Bethell, the former Health minister during the height of the pandemic, expressing shock, indicate that almost 3 million people of working age are now economically inactive due to illness. This is having an impact on discussions around shortages of workers and even the pension age being raised to address this issue.

 In an article in the Guardian the economics correspondent Larry Elliott, the economics correspondent writes:  “There are many theories about why the trend is worsening. Possible factors include long Covid, delays in NHS treatment as waiting lists grow longer, poor workplace practices, stress and the impact of austerity.

But one thing is certain. The economic impact of ill health is a headache for Jeremy Hunt. It will be a headache for Rachel Reeves if she becomes the first female chancellor. It is a headache for every business struggling to fill vacancies.” It is undoubtedly true that there are a number of factors but Long Covid is one of the main ones. Increasing cases, and they will increase with a largely unvaccinated population, will continue to cause economic problems and clog up the already overburdened NHS.

The combination of the toxic policies of eugenics and austerity will continue to drag Britain down as it rapidly becomes the Sick Man of Europe. Making vaccines publicly free and available to many is the logical solution. The legacy of these policies will live with us for decades as a still dangerous pathogen continues to run free with no restraint.


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Joseph Healy is a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

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