The Opposition are perfectly entitled to adopt whatever nebulous policy they want in relation to the vaccination of children aged 12-15. However, what is dangerous is that they should set themselves up as experts on a sensitive medical issue in a way which can only generate confusion and misunderstanding among the population. Additionally, in taking a position which is nebulous they are doing no more than creating confusion on an issue on which clarity is essential. The position of the GSLP Liberal Government is clear: we are making vaccines available, with stocks generously supplied by the United Kingdom, and we advise that all eligible individuals should take the recommended dosage. In taking that position we are following the advice of our current and former Directors of Public Health, the Chief Medical and Scientific Officers for England and of each of the other Kingdoms in the UK, as well as most if not all EU nations and the United States.
Despite that, the plain fact remains that the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 is voluntary in Gibraltar for both adults and children. This means that ultimately vaccination is a matter of individual choice and not one of imposition on public health or medical grounds. It should therefore not become a political issue. The GSD has carelessly played into the hands of the anti-vaccination lobby in the way in which it’s statements have been perceived and interpreted by many. Apart from being unfortunate, this betrays a continued recklessness by the GSD in the way it makes its public statements generally, with little consideration given to the effect on them and the effect of their statements on different aspects of Gibraltar’s public interest.
In this case, the individual and collective benefit of vaccination is, nonetheless, already crystal clear. The take-up of a vaccine against any particular disease has been found to be essential in the fight against a number of serious illnesses and conditions over many decades. A vaccine will protect the person to whom the dose is administered, but that effect is multiplied considerably as more people are vaccinated into the wider protection of Gibraltar as a whole.
Therefore the numbers who take up these vaccines will be a determining factor in Gibraltar’s continuing fight against COVID-19 in the months to come. The more people who are vaccinated, the less pressure the GHA will be under, in particular as we head into winter. In that context, the jumbled message and the splitting of hairs by the Opposition does not do anyone any good. In particular the issue of vaccination of 12 to 15 year olds is relevant not just to the health of those individuals and their education, but also to the health of those others in our community who come into contact with individuals in that age group.
Moreover, the vaccination of children is no longer a debate to be had in the abstract given that millions of 12-15 year olds in the United States and in the European Union (with neighbouring Spain having a very high percentage) have already been vaccinated against COVID-19 since the relevant vaccines were approved by their respective medical authorities in May. This followed intensive testing within that age group which preceded the approval of the vaccine. The reality is that the United Kingdom and Gibraltar are now playing catch-up in this area with the rest of the developed world.
It is very odd that the Opposition have taken a view which is against the advice of the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Officers, against the advice of the public health and medical authorities in Gibraltar, against the advice of the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and against the advice of the European Medicines Agency. The public would be right to question why and to ask themselves how the GSD would act in Government – whether they would follow the medical advice, as the GSLP Liberal Government has done, or whether they would not, with all the potential negative consequences that could entail.