The Christmas vaccine dilemma – what would you do?

Last night’s  Radio 4 PM had a discussion with a mother and son who were dealing with an issue that many families will be trying to resolve this Christmas. This particular family had members who are particularly vulnerable to Covid and the son had chosen not to get vaccinated.

The compromise they reached was that the son would have a PCR test before mixing with the rest of the family.

It made me think about what I would do in these circumstances. I am about as Covid cautious as they come and my household is being very careful about who we mix with. We are following the Scottish Government’s advice and doing a lateral flow test before seeing other family members and they are doing the same. I’m lucky that we don’t have the vaccine issue as we’ve all been vaccinated and boostered to the max. In fact, the last member of our household got his booster on Monday, rather than the previously earliest appointment he could get which was 17th January thanks in part to Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP. The vaccination centre at Ingliston had been going to be dismantled to make way for a rave the weekend before last. Alex raised the problem with Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and the rave was cancelled and the vaccine centre reinstated.

It took me seconds to come to the conclusion that if a member of my family had not had the vaccine for non medical reasons, I wouldn’t see them, no matter how much that hurt. I wouldn’t judge them because everybody has the right to make these decisions for themselves but I wouldn’t put the vulnerable people in my household at risk by mixing with people who were at greater risk of transmitting the virus. The exception would be if they had been advised not to have the vaccine on medical grounds and were shielding . I wouldn’t fall out with anyone about it, I’d just take myself out of the equation by staying at home and explain gently why I was doing so.

I then got to thinking about what would happen in people’s workplaces where you don’t have so much control over who you mix with. Employers aren’t allowed to keep records on who is vaccinated and who is not unless there is a legitimate reason to do so. Unison has information on this and your rights here. If you are worried, the onus is on your employer to do a risk assessment of your safety and allow you to work from home or redeploy you if possible. However, there will be many people out there who by the very nature of their job are not able to do either of those things.

To go back to the original dilemma, what would you do? I hope that everyone facing it is able to find a solution that works for them and keeps the family peace.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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21 Comments

  • We have the same dilemma in our family… My Brother is vaccinated as he is vulnerable, but his fiancée and her 19 year old son are anti-vax, covid deniers who joy in spreading misinformation on social media.. I have had no ends of arguments with him about them.
    My brother gets angry with my parents as they refuse to visit him as they do not want to be around unvaccinated people, he insists they will stay in their bedrooms out of the way whilst they are visiting, but my parents are not comfortable with that for obvious reasons…My brother feels he is being punished because of the choices of his fiancée, but that is just the way it has to be. There are consequences for those who chose not to be vaccinated, especially when there are other vulnerable family members to consider.
    Most of my family work on the front line in either the NHS or in care homes and so are not able to isolate before xmas in order to have a safer xmas with my parents, fortunately me and my other half are able to do so and have been keeping away from people for last few weeks, so it has been decided it is safer for Mum and Dad to come and live with us again over the next month whilst this new variant rips as they did during the first waves…. (I just feel sorry and worry for the people who are not in the same position as us and able to do the same for their parents) Dad is only just out of hospital in the last month or so with sepsis, Pneumonia and a ruptured Gallbladder and were very fortunate that he is even here for xmas, So xmas really does not mean that much to me when you put things into perspective, but I do understand for religious people things are more difficult….
    This Government and opposition parties have a lot to answer for with the mixed messaging for people over xmas, especially towards elderly and more vulnerable people when so little is known about how this variant is going to translate into Hospital admissions, when I look at the number of “unoccupied beds” not incl ICU in my local Hospital 32 beds available at last count….A sudden surge of covid patients is frightening..

  • …………………………To go back to the original dilemma, what would you do? I hope that everyone facing it is able to find a solution that works for them and keeps the family peace………………..

    I would judge them! ..If one’s parents were severely allergic to a dog/cat would it be acceptable to demand bringing the pet into the home?.

    We all have the right to choose but choices have consequences..

  • David Stephen 22nd Dec '21 - 12:59pm

    I think the real question is one of value. The value you place on people versus the value you place on the vaccine. If you value the vaccine over people, then only the vaccine matters which means people are secondary. Consequently, every interaction you have with people will be subject to how you feel about the vaccine, and therefore, whether you think you’re judging people or not, you are in fact judging people by comparing their value to that of the vaccine.

    In other words, valuing the vaccine over people means unvaccinated people are one hundred percent guilty, while the vaccine itself is less than one hundred percent truthful.

    I don’t think that’s particularly equitable.

    At the end of the day, it’s your choice but, speaking as one who suffered a lifetime of, in my case, baseless discrimination from my family, you should remember that life is a two way street.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Dec '21 - 3:44pm

    I think we need to introduce vax passports for ICU beds. As the NHS has been underfunded for 11 years, there aren’t enough to cater for all our needs, so those who “sadly” need them because they are unvaccinated and caught a severe dose of Covid should be the ones to face that consequence, not others who may need those resources.

  • Andrew Tampion 22nd Dec '21 - 4:51pm

    Jenny Barnes; “I think we need to introduce vax passports for ICU beds.”
    So if in the 1980’s the NHS had said we are introducing HIV passports and anyone who had caught Aids after not following advice on safe sex would “sadly” not receive treatment you’d say that was right?

  • Peter Martin 22nd Dec '21 - 5:08pm

    @ Jenny,

    If Lib Dems listened to popular opinion there would be a greater realisation that this is the sort of thing that people are saying. Not for them the finer points of individuality and freedom to choose at everyone else’s expense. Last night, in my local, the near unanimous feeling was that if the unvaccinated, unless they had a valid medical excuse, needed hospital treatment they should have to pay for it themselves. We considered that would be at least £5k per week.

    That’s the deal. Of course everyone is free to take it or leave it.

  • @Andrew – Jenny is on the button…
    Unlike HIV and ‘safe sex’, the NHS has a record of people’s vaccination status. Adults have had time to get vaccinated etc. (one of reasons why there were queues at walking centres for booster jabs was that many who could of had their jabs weeks earlier hadn’t bothered…).
    If we respect a person’s decision not to get vaccinated then following the NHS Respect protocol, it is a reasonable determination that, the person does not want NHS treatment for CoViD and thus in turning a person away, the NHS medical staff are simply respecting that persons decision made at a time when they had capacity to make such decisions.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Dec '21 - 7:13am

    Yesterday I spent a very enjoyable day with an unvaccinated relative. We certainly didn’t socially distance. We visited a busy local attraction, where I would estimate that around half of those present were certainly unvaccinated. The unvaccinated people present were giving no thought to social distancing (nor, to be fair, were many of the vaccinated people present). A great time was had by all. None of the vaccinated people present showed any alarm at being surrounded by people who were certainly unvaccinated. Instead, they gave them indulgent smiles, as they (the unvaccinated) behaved as if they had no idea that they were in the middle of a pandemic. (Indeed, I’m pretty sure my own unvaccinated relative literally has no idea that there is a pandemic).
    I should explain that I spent the day with my three year old grandson. We visited a local children’s museum. The children present, most of whom were under ten, were clearly all unvaccinated. It was busy, as you would expect in the school holidays (although the museum are limiting numbers, and it was less busy than it would have been pre pandemic). Naturally, the young children were not thinking about social distancing, and the adults mostly seemed to have decided that it would be impractical and inappropriate for them (the adults) to worry much about social distancing either. I assume that most of the adults present were vaccinated, though I suppose its likely that some were not.
    So I guess that’s the answer to your question, Caron. It was an easy decision.

  • Matt Haines 23rd Dec '21 - 8:59am

    Ask them to take a PCR test. If everyone in the household is negative then their vaccination status can be put aside for that gathering.

    Too many people seem to think being fully jabbed negates the need to check you aren’t positive for the virus. It doesn’t. We have thousands of fully vaccinated people spreading the virus, completely oblivious to the danger they still pose to others.

    As for those who suggest some form of healthcare apartheid- utterly ridiculous. Next it will be denying healthcare on grounds of diet, exercise, pre-existing conditions, refusal to take part in medical trials. Then it’s one step away from denying healthcare to the unemployed or tax exempt on the grounds they haven’t contributed to the system. All of this is exactly what the Tories would love to see. So shall we all just calm down a bit?

  • >“Ask them to take a PCR test. If everyone in the household is negative then their vaccination status can be put aside for that gathering.”
    Not experienced the “joys” of testing?
    In my household (all with the maximum number of recommended jabs for their age group), I was the only one who had a positive LFT in the evening before and morning of my PCR test – which came back positive. My partner had negative LFT but positive PCR test, my son negative LFT and indeterminate PCR, yet both within 24 hours developed all the classic CoViD symptoms, illness and “aftershock”. Interestingly, after the morning of my PCR test, all subsequent daily LFT’s (We agreed to participate in a research project) by myself and members of my household were negative.

    Catherine is right, ultimately you have to make a decision and accept a level of risk with which you are comfortable with.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Dec '21 - 11:32am

    @Roland
    “ultimately you have to make a decision and accept a level of risk with which you are comfortable with.”

    What about others who might not be comfortable with the level of risk which you might be comfortable with? Do you visit them (assuming they’ve been too polite not to invite you)?

  • Jenny Barnes 23rd Dec '21 - 4:23pm

    There was no great risk of the NHS being overwhelmed by HIV cases in the 1980s. With over a decade of NHS underfunding, and 2 years of running very hot and staff falling ill, there is a overwhelming pressure on the NHS. An ICU bed occupied by an unvaccinated Covid patient might be the difference between a cancer patient surviving or not. Obvious exceptions for immuno compromised people who really can’t have a vax safely.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Dec '21 - 5:14pm

    Jenny, the principle of bodily autonomy is a fundamental principle of human rights and medical ethics, which must not be compromised on. Presumably you yourself were happy to be vaccinated against Covid. But have you stopped to think that, if the dangerous precedent you are advocating was followed, it might be used in the future to make medical treatment in an ICU dependent on some other vaccine, or medical procedure, that for some reason you yourself would be reluctant to have?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Dec '21 - 6:41pm

    Martin, I think you may have rather missed the point of my post. I’m tripple jabbed myself, by the way. Its my grandson who is unvaccinated (of course, as he is three). Did you even read my post to the end? What aspect of my light hearted post makes you think I’m not bothered about the welfare of those more vulnerable than myself?
    Do you think my grandson, and other children his age, should be denied activities like going to a children’s museum, which are so beneficial to their wellbeing and education? I’m afraid I genuinely don’t understand your post.
    I suppose I was trying to make the serious point that people vilify those who have chosen not to be vaccinated, and claim that they are a threat, but not many people (I would have thought) are afraid to go near small children, although they are also unvaccinated. Which suggests that most people really know that contact with unvaccinated people is not dangerous (especially if you are vaccinated yourself), or at any any rate not much more dangerous than contact with vaccinated people, who can also catch and transmit the virus

  • @Catherine – ” if the dangerous precedent you are advocating was followed, it might be used in the future to make medical treatment in an ICU dependent on some other vaccine, or medical procedure, that for some reason you yourself would be reluctant to have?”
    That precedent is already in place with the Respect protocol. Try treating acute sepsis when the patient is unable to give their consent and their Respect form says no intravenus drugs etc. …

  • Jenny Barnes 24th Dec '21 - 11:45am

    I have no problem with the principle of bodily autonomy, and if the situation arose where I took a decision – like not being vaccinated – that led to me potentially needing an IC bed when otherwise I wouldn’t, I would accept the consequences of my decision.
    And what would you do? Face with an unvaccinated Covid patient and a cancer patient, both of whom need your last IC bed – who gets it?
    Obviously we need to be holding the governments of the last 10 years to account for underfunding the NHS, removing training support, etc. But you have to manage from where you are, and bringing the NHS back up to a level where it can cope with the next pandemic is going to take some considerable time. Yes, there will be a next one.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 24th Dec '21 - 2:33pm

    Jenny, if I was in that situation of having a decide who to give the last ICU bed to, the unvaccinated person with covid, or the cancer patient, then of course I would give it to whoever needed it most urgently. But I think it is highly unlikely the the NHS will become overwelmed to the extent that it would not be possible to find a bed for the other patient somewhere, at another hospital if necessary. It is a principle of medical ethics that doctors must make decisions based solely on the medical needs of their patients, not on moral judgments about which patients are “deserving” or “undeserving”.
    Many patients in an ICU may be there partly as a result of choices they have made. This should make no difference to the treatment they receive. What would you do if the cancer patient in the situation you mention had become ill as a result of smoking? Would you still consider them more deserving than the unvaccinated covid patient, or would you regard them as equally “undeserving”. What if in the ICU there was also someone who was there following a drug overdose, and someone who had been seriously injured in a car crash caused by their own dangerous driving? Would you judge them more or less harshly than the unvaccinated covid patient?
    Medical care must be available, free, to all, and moral judgments on patients should play no part in the decisions of medical professionals. I am alarmed that this should even need to be said

  • Andrew Tampion 24th Dec '21 - 5:43pm

    Jenny Barnes. Catherine Jane Crosland has already answered your comments on my response to your post. I endorse her comments and have nothing to add.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 25th Dec '21 - 7:59am

    Martin, thank you for your reply. I seem to remember that you are in Scotland, and it sounds as if not only are there more restrictions there than in England, but public attitudes are rather different too. Here in England, it is very unusual to see a child under eleven wear a mask, and I don’t think I have ever seen a child of nursery age wear one. I think most people here would consider that it would be inappropriate for children to wear masks, and that this could be seriously harmful for very young children.
    I do feel that you need to read my first comment more sensitively, and then you might have understood what I meant by it being an “easy decision”. I thought of making the comment longer, and explaining, but decided there was no need to spell it out, and it was best to keep the comment short and light hearted. I want my grandson, and other young children, to have as happy, full, and “normal” a childhood as possible, despite the pandemic. I also want to spend time with my grandson, and enjoy activities with him. Fortunately, children are at very little risk from the virus, so any risk in this situation is to me. To take this risk really is an easy decision, although I suppose if I had been extremely vulnerable I might have had to make a different decision.
    Happy Christmas 🙂

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