Boosterism without the boosters
What my quest to get the third jab says about Johnson's Christmas promises
Hello, happy Tuesday.
Watching yesterday’s Downing St press conference, in which the country was urged to get its Covid booster jabs to avoid a winter lockdown, I wanted to show Boris Johnson my recent call history. Believe it or not, I’ve spent the past month trying to get various parts of the health service to recognise that I really am disabled so that I could get my third shot.
Frankly, you’d think they’d be up to speed.
My GP, as you’d imagine, is perfectly aware that I have cerebral palsy. But it doesn’t seem to be on any of my records. I never got any correspondence about shielding, and when the vaccine roll-out started in January, my GP had to manually add me to the priority list.
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You’d think, too, that once you were on the list, you’d be on it for good. Except my GP informed me that they don’t have any vaccine doses. The surgery has seemingly handed all responsibility for booster jabs to the national vaccine service. And guess what? The online national booking service said I was not eligible.
I knew immediately what had happened; no one had ever recorded why I had the first jab so early. After all, almost none of my encounters with the health service are about my cerebral palsy. And, really, it’s not my cerebral palsy per se that makes me vulnerable to Covid but my reliance on multiple carers. A social vulnerability, if you will, rather than a medical one. None of this, I was sure, would be on my records.
I called 119. When I managed to get through, I was told several times that if I’d been given priority once, I’d get it again, and not to worry. One man told me there was simply no way the system hadn’t recorded my disability (oh, pal). And yet my PAs had all been called for their boosters, as had the high priority people I know. I started playing phone ping-pong, being passed from 119 to the GP and back again as each insisted that it was the other’s job to check my record.
Eventually, a kindly woman at 119 decided to actually have a look. Immediately, she conceded that the dates of my first and second jabs were evidence enough that I should get a booster. “How funny,” she said, “your cerebral palsy isn’t on here.” It’s possible I strained my eyes with how hard I rolled them.
Kindly lady told me she’d flag my record as wrong but she couldn’t say how long it would take to get fixed, and advised me to go to a walk-in. And of course, when I did just that, the staff barely glanced at me before deciding I was eligible. I can’t think what gave it away.
So I’ve had the damn jab. Hurrah. It’s been a week, so I’m happily thinking of myself as extremely immune (please still sit over there). But the point is, it really shouldn’t have been such a kerfuffle to get the thing. I am the kind of person who is informed, anxious and frankly stubborn enough to chase down a booster (and who has the ability to jump in the car to get to a walk-in), but others will see the ‘you are ineligible for this service’ online message and conclude they don’t need one. Others will struggle to argue with their GP or 119. And others still will simply wait for the text invitation that never comes.
Which rather calls into question Boris Johnson’s governing philosophy, ironically known as ‘boosterism’ - the idea that if you are excessively optimistic about everything, often in the face of overwhelmingly bad evidence, it will all be fine. At the moment, the government’s entire winter plan, including avoiding a Christmas lockdown, is predicated on the idea that all eligible people will get their third shot. My experience suggests otherwise. Johnson’s plan for booster-enabled, boosterish Turkey dinners are looking, well, like boosterism.
There’s also a messaging problem (sound familiar?). Many seem to think of the booster as an optional ‘nice to have,’ believing that the first two doses are extremely effective. Despite the PM’s random afternoon press conference, the message about waning immunity hasn’t got through. Nor has the idea that, while a fall in efficiency from 94% to 77% doesn’t sound like a lot individually, spread over society it represents tens of thousands more infections. It would be nice if Sajid ‘just get jabbed’ Javid made this argument, rather than blaming people who can’t get appointments for the sorry state we’re in.
And while he’s at it, maybe he can sort out flu jabs too. Boots have just cancelled my appointment. They haven’t got any. Back to the phone it is.
Have you been able to get the booster? What about the flu jab? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
See you next week,
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Links of the week
Here’s what I’ve been reading and enjoying this week:
Jonathan Freedland’s searing and peerless piece on how Boris Johnson’s treatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe shows us exactly who he is (The Guardian)
My pal Frances Ryan laying down some truths about compulsory vaccinations and generally being the queen that she is (The Guardian)
Caitlin Moran’s column on going green had me cackling on the sofa (The Saturday Times Magazine, paywalled)
I still don’t know what to make of the infamous Covid lab leak theory. This piece is a very considered examination of the whole furore (also The Saturday Times Magazine, paywalled)
Those Tory MPs moaning about the metropolitan elite? They’re its figureheads (The New Statesman)
Stop worrying about what other people think. No one cares! (The Atlantic)