Will you take the Covid-19 vaccine(s)?

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/06/the-vaccine-miracle-how-scientists-waged-the-battle-against-covid-19

Around 20% of us are unlikely to take the Covid-19 vaccine (there are more than one type of vaccine, but it is highly unlikely you’ll get a choice—unless you’re rich—which propriety brand you will get inoculated with). These are a vocal minority, let’s call them I’d-rather- smear-my-face-with-shit group. Our French compatriots numbers are higher.

Around  15% are unsure.  We’ll wait and see group numbers could swell if there are reports of side-effects. Mavericks are sure to spring up such as Andrew Wakefield who claimed there was a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and childhood autism. He was struck off by the General Medical Council and his claims disproved, but he remains unrepentant.

My medical experience comes from playing the side of Dr Finlay’s head as an extra in Dr Finlay’s Casebook. So you could say, I’m a medical man, and I’d treat Wakefield’s claim with the contempt reserved for the moron, moron’s claim that injecting yourself with disinfectant was a cure for Covid-19.

But we all like the narrative of the underdog, the whistle-blower willing to take on the establishment and tell the truth. A.J. Cronin who wrote Dr Finlay, as a Scottish doctor, wrote what he knew. Dr Andrew Mason’s character, the narrator of The Citadel, for example, was portrayed as having working-class origins in the hungry nineteen-thirties. He is about to be struck off by the General Medical Council. But instead of apologising, he rises up and castigates them.

‘commercialism? the usual guinea-chasing treatments, the unnecessary operations, the crowds of worthless pseudo-scientific propriety preparations we use…The whole profession is far too intolerant and smug…For years we’ve been bleating about the sweated conditions under which our nurses work, the wretched pittances we pay them.

Louis Pasteur, the greatest figure of all scientific medicine, was not a doctor.  

The deferential era in which the characters Dr Andrew Mason, or Dr Findlay, or indeed the author A.J.Cronin steps forward, was one when if a medical doctor told his patient to smear his or her face with shit you’d be sure to make a good job of it has passed is also a myth. Our gods are just different gods. Who is yours?

Who can we trust, when ‘I’ the online warrior knows best? (ironic since I’m writing this online).

I’m no different. I’m not the exception to the rule. Keyboard warriors believe there’s a conspiracy to keep them quiet. Like Dr Andrew Mason they’ll have their day, and their say. They’re called trolls for a reason. They won’t be struck off. They won’t be silenced. They’re the rightist of the right.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/23/conspiracy-theories-internet-survivors-truth

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/nov/29/how-to-deal-with-a-conspiracy-theorist-5g-covid-plandemic-qanon

Carl Sagan’s invisible imaginary dragon is always a step too far. Fake authority is easily bought. George Clooney goes at it with brio as a tobacco lobbyist in Up in the Air/Thank You for Smoking.

‘You can’t prove anything/ You can prove everything, given enough data’. Thought provoking killer cliché.

In Martin Ford’s apocalyptic vision in The Rise of the Robot, Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment, what we’re left with is our planet (and the planets closest to earth) cannibalised as the cuckoo in our nest, the next generation of robots work to eliminate uncertainty.

We don’t know if the current Covid-19 vaccine will limit the spread of disease. What we have is best guess. Those inoculated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, according to studies have lower viral loads than those given a placebo. This suggests they are less likely to spread the Covid-19 virus.

We wear face masks not to protect ourselves, but others, getting inoculated helps to prevent the spread of disease. In the same way, I wouldn’t cross the road while holding a three-year-old girl’s hand (Tilly) while standing at the traffic lights until I hear the beeps, because it also sets her a good example. I might get hit by a truck but I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m following a code that can protect both of us. That doesn’t mean I won’t also be looking right or left and stop listening for traffic.

Philip Knightley (1997) provides a case study of all the familiar ingredients of how pharmaceutical companies evade responsibility. The Thalidomide Scandal, Where We Went Wrong. Blaming the victims. Court injunctions slowing down disclosure, while accepting no responsibility and extraneous factors as causative.  Creating a Kafkaesque bureaucratic maze to rival that of Grenfell victims—before and after. Class played a large part. The richer and more vocal middle-class victims were more likely to obtain compensation. Negligence and ruthlessness of establishment forces to finalise a settlement. In many ways it mirrors the hostile environment our Home Office and Priti Patel helped create for immigrants seeking British citizenship.    

Politics is about power. It doesn’t surprise me that Boris Johnstone’s cronies are handed tens of millions of taxpayers money for providing (fill in your own example here, such as Personal Protective Equipment) while not giving any of us a real choice. Drug companies cash in on their monopolies to hike up prices. That doesn’t surprise me either. That doesn’t mean the product they’re selling doesn’t work. American steel monopolies created quality steel. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is new technology. Cutting edge.

Robert A. Caro says in his introduction to Working: ‘Political power shapes all of our lives. It shapes your life in little ways you might not even think about.’

The I’d-rather-smear-my-face-with-shit group, don’t want you to think. Don’t want you to read. They have their own agenda and want simple answers to complex questions.  If an airplane made of millions of complex parts becomes grounded for mechanical reasons that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fly. Our bodies are made of billions of cells.  Pharmaceutical companies and epidemiologists are the ground crew telling us they can fix it and it’s safe to fly. Sure we’ve had setbacks and crashes. But it’s not all about you, you, you, or I, I, I. We need to look at the larger community. What’s the point of clapping NHS workers while ignoring their advice? When you, your daughter or son gets sick and can’t breathe, don’t phone an ambulance. Tell them it’s just a giant hoax. The one and half million dead are faking it in the same ways six million Jews didn’t perish in death camps. The true figure is only known by us right-wingers. A vaccine is for losers. You know best. Hey, I’m going to fly.  I want to get as far away from those right-wing loonies as I can.

Yes, I’ll take the vaccine.

A.J.Cronin (1937) The Citadel.

I read this years ago. Probably, the beginning of the 1970s. Mrs Bell our next door neighbour was on her throne. She kept a firm grip on her son, Pete(r). TV Times, Reader’s Digest, Sunday Post and borrowed our Sunday Mail. All was right in her world. She admitted she skipped the boring bits in books. Descriptive stuff. A.J.Cronin was one of her favourites. No boring stuff and everything was black and white. There were good guy and bad guys. Just when the bad guys looked like winning—you know what happened next, Mrs Bell lit another cigarette.

Let’s talk about the hero, Dr Manson.

Late one October afternoon in the year 1924, a shabby young man gazed with fixed intensity through the window of a third class compartment in the almost empty train labouring up the Penowell Valley from Swansea. All that day Manson had travelled from the North, changing at Carlisle and Shrewsbury, yet the final stage of his tedious journey to South Wales found him strung  to a still greater excitement by the prospect of his post, the first of his medical career, in this strange, disfigured, county.  

I was also in a disfigured country and stood in for another of A.J.Cronin’s heroes, Dr Findlay—not of Facebook—but Casebook fame. One of the wardrobe staff, a gay man, was quite taken with me. Unshaven and hungover I was put into a tweed coat and got to play the back of Dr Findlay’s head. I wasn’t that interested in the fame, but £75 for less than two hours work as an extra appealed enormously.

But here we begin with Dr Manson, in his coming-of-age and romantic drama. The reader knows he’s poor, because he’s travelling third class. Perhaps rather than saying he was shabby, Cronin should have described his off-the-peg suit, only people with money could afford bespoke suits. His journey is described as tedious, yet Dr Manson is described as brimming with excitement. Mrs Bell would have approved, description is done by numbers.

Characters have flaws, it’s in their surnames. Mr Boon is obviously a bad guy. Listen to the names. Doctor Thoroughgood, well, we know what to think of him. Nurse Sharp, whom Dr Manson, hires in a later incarnation. You know what she’ll be like and it won’t be pretty.

Mr Stillman, sounds like a good guy, still-man. Hope, with his lab work, is a great friend. What about Robert Abbey? I’ll let you decide, but let’s just say the prestigious doctor has very understanding eyes. At one point the distinguished gentleman flipped back to his own humble background, all the better to understand Dr Manson. Granny, what big eyes you’ve got.

Con? Well, usually, that would be a negative. But he’s Mr Funny man, a dentist who lives in a ramshackle house and fixes cars. Poor, but happy. So joyful his daughter, Mary’s lung disease is just another way of giving Dr Manson a chance at redemption. Mary might be the mother of God, but here there’s a shadow on her lung.

There was a shadow on Mrs Bell’s lungs. All that smoking. Dr Manson also smokes. Everybody did in those days, well apart from Christine. Dr Manson marries her. She’s a school teacher and Manson behaves abominably badly. He admits it, and they laugh and make up.  

Later, whisper it, he had an affair. He returned to Christine like a dog with his tale between his legs. Yep. Lots of clichés. No sex. It was left to the reader to work out whether Dr Manson went beyond the kissing stage. I shouldn’t really spoil the story, but Christine should have paid less attention to being poor, but happy, keeping her house sparkling clean—dirt being the enemy of a good, virtuous woman—and more attention to buses.

Dr Manson in Aberlaw, with all the modern facilities, knew how to deal with patients who ‘swung the lead’.

‘Certificate,’ he said, without minding his manners.

‘What for?’ Andrew asked.

‘Stagmus.’

The tone alone caused Andrew to look at Chenkins with quick resentment.

Beer on his breath. Piggy eyes. Ben Chenkin Not to be trusted. Not like his alcoholic friend Denny. He’s a surgeon. Down on his luck. Who wouldn’t be after his wife—whom he was madly in love with—left him for another man. Of course Denny drunk. Any man would in those circumstances. Crawling blind underground and breathing in dust that ages a man to provide the fuel that drove the industrial revolution—salt of the earth type need only apply and be prepared to die, shouldn’t swing any lead.

Christine counts the pennies. They’re poor but happy. Then rich and unhappy. Medicine is set up to favour the rich and connected. As it is now, but it is more of a meritocracy. Manson’s constant claim that he’d be reduced to nought and poverty, is matched by, for example, Adam Kay, of This Is Going to Hurt fame. Both claimed there’s no money in it, medicine. They did it for love.  Yet the monthly salary of a doctor would be the six monthly salary of a 1920s miner and a yearly salary of the poorest worker.  

Miners used penny whistles to shame black legs and Ben Chenkin, when Manson decides to leave Aberlaw for London. Whenever there’s a point of principle in the room, Manson is sure to trip over it. He never just leaves, he always leaves with his head high—over a point of principle.

When, for example, Manson leaves London to set up a mini-NHS based on democratic principles with his good friend and ally Denny, of the non-piggy eyes and his other good friend Hope, well, you know a point of principle is going to turn up.

I do it myself when writing, I always fling the main character (or his wife) under the bus. But there’s a hole in his storyline which makes it unbelievable. Miners might be portrayed as the salt of the earth types (apart from piggy-eyes, signing on while he didn’t work, Ben Chankins) but a rudimentary approach to any kind of history would pinpoint the 1926 General Strike epicentre was in the coal fields. Welsh coal fields.  History of any kind seemed to have bypassed Dr Manson, perhaps he was studying too hard, trying to get on. The 1929 Stock Market Crash? The Hungry Thirties? The Great Depression. Mass unemployment. Lockouts at the pits. Nowt taken out. Or put in. A bit like the affair, of the non-affair.

Dr Manson nobly battles against the Citadel of the Medical profession, charlatans, bureaucracy and vested interests. Manson prefigures the need for a National Health Service. Mrs Bell would have approved. Why bother with all the boring details when you can have a good story?