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21 April 2021

Stephen Pollard’s Diary: I have leukaemia, my immune system is in pieces, and so the vaccine is entirely useless for me

For everyone suffering with compromised immune systems, lockdown easing remains a source of great anxiety. 

By Stephen Pollard

Is there a more smug, ignorant and dangerous group than the anti-vaxxers? Long before the pandemic, I fell out with some acquaintances over their refusal to let their children have the MMR vaccine. Frankly, if they want to run the risk of their own kids dying, that’s on them. But I see no excuse for allowing them to put other children at risk.

That calculus has, of course, taken on a far greater importance over the Covid vaccine. And thankfully the conspiracy nutters have not been able to prevent the very high overall take-up. But statistics published recently showed that a truly shocking 31 per cent of black people over 60 have not had the vaccine – compared with just 4 per cent of white people in the same age group. There are many factors behind this, but the lies peddled by the anti-vaxxers is a pretty important one.

[See also: A Covid-19 vaccine is a remarkable achievement – but anti-vaxxers will be a problem]

Immune from immunity

The vaccine is a miracle for our secular times – a product of science at its most awe inspiring. But wonderful as it is, I am nonetheless finding much of the coverage of the easing of lockdown, and the widely held notion that those of us who have already had the vaccine are now more or less free to resume our normal lives, hard to take.

I have leukaemia. As a result of the disease and my treatment, my immune system is in pieces. A consequence is that the vaccine is entirely useless for me – as it is for many, if not all, of the other 250,000 people with blood cancer in the UK.

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I had my first dose in January and three weeks later had an antibody test, on the basis that you never know. It was negative. There was some hope that a second dose might trigger a response but recently I had a second test, three weeks after my second jab. Again, negative. I have, as the lab report puts it, “no serological evidence of immunisation”.

As everyone starts to breathe more freely now we are moving along the roadmap, please spare a thought for those of us who don’t have the protection the vaccine offers. It’s been a gruelling year for anyone who has had to shield and while many people are – thank God – starting to relax a bit now, some of us are effectively back where we started in March 2020.

For some reason the government, which has rightly splashed the cash to fund almost anything connected with tackling Covid, has put the shutters up on funding research projects designed to find ways to protect people with compromised immune systems. It feels as if they don’t think we matter.

Yes, we will benefit from the impact of the vaccine on the spread of the disease and from possible herd immunity. But while the vaccine may be a magic bullet for most, for the hundreds of thousands of people whose immune systems don’t work properly, it’s nothing of the sort. There is no easing for us.

[See also: International coronavirus vaccine tracker: how many people have been vaccinated?]

The uncivil service

From the evidence we have seen so far, the Greensill story is a commentary on the grubbiness of David Cameron rather than a scandal that threatens current ministers. The attack lines on Rishi Sunak are pretty weak. His response to Cameron’s texts reminds me of my own when someone I have to be polite to sends me an article in which I have no interest. I pass it on to a colleague so I can reply that I have asked someone to take a look at it.

It’s clear the lobbying rules need to be tightened. But it’s missing the point to regard the moral of this story as being what the rules were and whether or not Cameron broke them. Even if you focus on Cameron, the issue, surely, is – rule or no rule – that a former prime minister has demeaned himself in such a tawdry way.

But for me the real story isn’t David Cameron. It’s the depredation of the civil service. It is, self-evidently, a good idea that some public servants have experience of the private sector. But not at the same time.

It is incomprehensible how the upper echelons of the civil service signed off on colleagues taking paid roles with outside companies at the same time as they were carrying out their roles as civil servants.

My father was a permanent secretary. I remember how he would go into a panic if he was sent a Christmas hamper by someone from outside the civil service, refusing to allow us to open it and immediately calling his office to have it picked up and returned. He wasn’t especially upstanding in that – it was standard across the civil service not to allow even the appearance of being bought. What a devastating commentary on modern mores that no one seems to have even been bothered by mandarins literally being in the pay of private companies.

A silver lining for Spurs

I was pleased that Spurs, my club, was one of the English teams who signed up to the now defunct European Super League. Not because I supported it – as pretty much everyone who does not own one of the teams involved agrees, it was a truly disgusting plan, which took the cynicism of those who own football to new depths.

No, my pleasure was precisely because I expected that it would collapse, and that the credibility of the owners involved would be stretched to – and beyond – breaking point. Bingo!

In my dream scenario, this week’s departure of José Mourinho will now be swiftly followed in a black cloud of Super League shame by that of Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, as part of the club’s sale to owners who think there is more to running a club than building a new stadium. As I said, I am a Spurs fan. Foolish optimism is our stock in trade.

[See also: The Super League is dead – but the challenge for Boris Johnson lives on]


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This article appears in the 21 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The unlikely radical