Next Slide Please

Browsing on twitter over the half term break I happened to glance at Professor Chris Whitty's feed, where as you might expect he makes the case for research and initiatives in public health. All very rational, based on sound science and statistics and aimed for public benefit. I then read some of the comments posted in response, and found them very difficult to comprehend - they seemed to be an odd mixture of the quasi-medical (touting various non-evidence based 'cures' for viral infection), quasi-numeric (employing slanted and unrepresentative stats), anecdotal (eg 'the hospitals are empty'), conspiratorial ('they are plotting against us all') together with some that were simply unhinged and sadly some personal abuse too. I am at a loss as to why anyone should choose to post such material; some might be seduced into thinking that such reading matter presents an alternative strategy for addressing the current health emergency. The current very high levels of take up for vaccination among the general population thankfully shows that the lunatic fringe is getting comparatively little traction, and thank goodness for that.

One of Chris Whitty's tweets gave a link to a Gresham College Lecture on vaccination that he delivered just over a week ago (see This should be required viewing for everyone, especially under the current circumstances. He starts with a brief historical background, then moves into considering the impact of vaccination against smallpox, rabies, diphtheria, leprosy, polio etc and then onto the science behind vaccines in general and the various COVID vaccines in particular. He also then focuses on the dramatic worldwide impacts of recent vaccination on child mortality across low and middle income countries through the last 3 decades. The concluding part of the lecture discusses the impact of vaccination on young women's live in particular, with the prospect that preventative vaccination could radically reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in the near future.

I am in no way an uncritical consumer of government information, and like most people I want access to the evidence that informs decision making that will affect my life. Like everyone in a democratic society I want to see the evidence that drives policy at a national level. Having said that I understand just how difficult those decisions must be, and I am in awe of the amazing science that has now enabled around 25% of the UK population to be vaccinated in less than 2 months of 2021. Reading those irresponsible posts on twitter made me very angry I'm afraid, but listening to the lecture restored confidence and gave me great hope for the future. We have taken enormous strides in medical science over the twentieth century especially, and I have little doubt that we are currently seeing another great advance happening in real time.