I am having lunch with a good friend, Science Nerd, who remains masked up until the point of fork entering mouth. He is cross that not all the other diners are following quite such a strict protocol – we are in a hippie vegan place full of white people with dreadlocks sipping hemp smoothies –but even though he accepts that many are pandemic jaded, he cannot comprehend vaccine scepticism. His parents are consultant microbiologists. He has no time for anti-vaxxers.
Luckily we are good enough friends that I can ask all kinds of stupid questions and still remain friends. Like what about when people say that the vaccine changes your DNA. He practically snorts hemp smoothie out each nostril. THAT’S WHAT VIRUSES AND VACCINES DO, he thunders. THAT’S THEIR FUNCTION. DID YOU NOT PAY ATTENTION IN BIOLOGY CLASS? I mutter something about possibly having nipped out for a fag during that particular lesson.
And what, I venture, about those who say they don’t want a vaccination because it’s not been tested properly? Using a power tool analogy, in the hope that my knowledge of Black & Decker is superior to my knowledge of biology, Science Nerd explains that a vaccine is like a drill, and the Covid vaccine is like a new drill bit. Not a brand new tool, just an add-on. Right, I nod. We glance around the café, and he tuts at the lack of social distancing. People who refuse to get vaccinated should just stay indoors, he adds. Forever.
Later I meet up with some friends – dear friends, who I love – who are natural health practitioners. Naturopaths, homeopaths, ayurvedics, that kind of thing. All staunchly unvaccinated. They are genuinely concerned about the vaccination. They are intelligent, kind people, rather than part of the mish-mash of politically dubious loonies you see on the telly screaming about their human rights being violated because of having to wear a mask in Tesco, or spouting crazed conspiracies with which only the terminally daft could engage. They are not them.
It’s like Brexit, except more personal. At least with Brexit you could automatically flip off anyone in your wider acquaintance who may have voted leave – not that I knowingly know any Brexitty types, apart from a distant handful on social media – but To Vax or Not To Vax is far more in your face. Literally. Obviously, science knows what it’s talking about. It’s not vague. It’s not opinion-based. Yet everyone genuinely believes they’re right, no matter where they are on the vaccination spectrum. It has reached a point where disclosing whether you have been jabbed or not can influence how people respond to you – by running a mile because you haven’t, to running a mile because you have. Minefield.