Editor's letter: 'A message to unvaccinated gay men - stop taking a selective approach to science'

We must all do our bit to lighten the load on an NHS we all rely on, writes Attitude Editor-in-Chief Cliff Joannou.


Words: Cliff Joannou; Image: Pexels


What defines an anti-vaxxer?

Well, there was that ‘Karen ’on the 159 bus speaking at volume on her phone, spouting about how she had just returned from a protest handing out leaflets warning against the ‘dangers ’of the Covid-19 vaccine. Allegedly, concerned parents were engaging with her as she shared stories about how numerous men she knew have suffered from erectile dysfunction since being vaccinated. (Did you ever think that maybe they just can’t get it up for you, hun?) It seems she wanted everyone on the bus to know about it, too.

Anti-vaxxers to me had always been obscure curtain-twitchers, the type who took their news only from Facebook, protesting loudly in public spaces so everyone could hear their twisted logic. They weren’t people I knew by first name. That is, until recently, when I learned that three people in close friendship circles to me are unvaccinated.

I’d never pegged any of them as the archetypal anti-vaxxer. They aren’t protesting outside Parliament or blocking school gates. But they are people who actively work on the gay scene, in clubs and bars. I then learned of a fourth person – a high-profile celebrity – who is an anti-vaxxer.

I find it hard to comprehend their choices. They aren’t anti-vaxxing social media trolls, but their actions contribute to an overwhelmed NHS struggling under the volume of hospital beds filled with the unvaccinated. Data shows that 10 per cent of the UK population have not had a Covid vaccine, yet the unvaccinated make up 80 per cent of the patients in general wards and critical care, Dr Ewen Cameron of Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital told the BBC. In the meantime, cancers and other deadly diseases are going undiagnosed and untreated, while life-saving operations are being denied to those who need them.

A woman I know cannot have surgery on her womb due to the NHS being under pressure by unvaccinated Covid patients. Another gay man that Attitude interviewed is now facing terminal cancer due to a delay in his treatment.

Meanwhile, poorer countries are struggling to secure the vaccines needed to save their people from Covid and its relentless onslaught of variants. People around the world are desperately in need of vaccination, while unvaccinated people in the UK go about their business little aware how lucky they are. It’s a depressing situation.

Refusing to take the vaccine is the new Brexit split that once pitted Remainer against Leaver. Regardless of where you sat on that debate, we were all shocked to find close friends in the other camp. The lines around Covid-19 are less blurred. It really seems like a battle of common sense and scientific knowledge versus blind indifference and fake news.

As with all of society’s ills, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. If you are not challenging homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism when you encounter it in your everyday life, you are enabling it. All the science in the world points to vaccination as the only viable way out of this mess. Beyond that we will have endless lockdowns or restrictions, social division and economic collapse.

There is much distrust in the science that delivered the vaccine. And even if the unvaccinated aren’t actively promoting anti-vaxxer myths, they are still playing a role in normalising these views.

I should add that the aforementioned unvaccinated three men I know have no qualms about ingesting a recreational drug sourced from a dealer whose number they were passed through a friend of a friend, or taking steroids supplied by a random contact that they met at the gym. They have no way of knowing what these substances contain, but they’re willing to risk it. But suggest they have a scientifically produced and tested Covid vaccine that might save their lives and they refuse to listen to reason.

Instead, they are happy to take a selective approach to science: they will get jabbed to cure syphilis or gonorrhoea; and they will gladly believe in the science when it comes to taking PrEP. But when it comes to the Covid vaccine, there’s a blind spot.

These people – whether we regard them as diehard anti-vaxxers or not – do not hold themselves accountable in helping to fix our broken world. They absolve themselves of their role in getting us out of this dire situation. But if we are not all united in doing our bit to lighten the load on the NHS, then chances are, when we really need it, it will no longer be there.

If you're in the UK, book your free NHS Covid-19 vaccination or booster here.