Josh Asker, Socialist Party national committee
A successful vaccination programme, if effectively delivered, gives millions of people hope of an easing of Covid-19 restrictions over the course of 2021.
It is in the interests of everyone, especially those with health vulnerabilities, for the vast majority of the population to be vaccinated.
But with trust in politicians, the media and all elements of the capitalist establishment at an all-time low, there is hesitancy among some layers of the population to take the vaccine. There’s also suspicion that big pharmaceutical corporations are exploiting the pandemic for profit.
‘Pimlico Plumbers’ boss Charlie Mullins has announced plans to introduce a ‘No jab, no job’ policy on his workforce. He plans to potentially rewrite employment contracts to stipulate vaccination as a requirement for employment. The man, who three years ago lost a Supreme Court battle over denying a worker sick pay, claims that that he is acting out of concern for his employees’ health.
The way to give people confidence in the safety of the vaccine is not by threatening them with their jobs, or using other repressive measures. Different nations approving different vaccines at different times, as well as the delay of the second vaccine doses, contrary to the method used in trials, have the potential to knock people’s confidence in the vaccine.
Decades of austerity and privatisation in the NHS have increased workloads; so much so that many GPs have retired or left the profession early. Many people do not even know who their doctor is, let alone have developed a relationship in which advice and guidance can easily be sought.
Throughout the pandemic, NHS Covid-19 related advice is largely only available online or through automated phone systems. A fully funded NHS would give people reassurance that unlikely complications or long-term effects of Covid-19 infection or treatments would be seen quickly and dealt with effectively. Benefits equivalent to a real living wage are also essential, instead of the miserly Statutory Sick Pay or Employment Support Allowance.
The Socialist Party has demanded from the beginning that vaccine trial designs and results should be open to public scrutiny. Vaccines and other medicines, and the way in which they are delivered, must be subject to the independent evaluation of the workers’ movement.
The experience and expertise of trade unionists in unions such as the UCU, Prospect, Unite and the BMA could be used to reassure people of safety. If this were done, delaying the second dose might be accepted as the most practical way to quickly reduce the number of seriously ill people – not just seen as the government lurching from one panic measure to another.
The shambolic government handling of the Covid-19 crisis, and the profiteering of pharmaceuticals and other health companies, means that increasing layers of the population are drawing the correct conclusion that capitalism cannot look after our health.
Trade unions must oppose any repressive compulsion of workers to get vaccinated, but must also fight for democratic oversight of the whole pandemic response, to give confidence to workers that decisions are being made in the interests of workers’ safety and not bosses’ profits.
Also the pharmaceutical companies benefited from enormous state funding of their research into coronavirus vaccines. Their nationalisation and incorporation into health services under democratic workers’ control is also necessary to ensure that future research and treatments are developed in the interests of the health of the majority and not the profits of their shareholders.