Leona O'Neill: Present the facts to anti-vax crowd in order to protect the NHS

As more anti-vaccination protests take place, Leona writes that we need to challenge those spreading disinformation about Covid – if only to prove to our front line NHS workers that we support their efforts to fight this very real and very deadly virus...

It's time to confront anti-vaccine protestors. Picture by Niall Carson

WATCHING up to a thousand people march through Belfast at the weekend singing and chanting about sticking the vaccine where the sun doesn't shine genuinely filled me with rage.

They came together – as they did in Dublin and London – in what they described as a 'freedom march', protesting about Covid restrictions, passports, vaccines and the wearing of masks.

People of all ages marched – from pension age to young children – and carried signs claiming the coronavirus is "a hoax", everyone who gets the vaccine is "a sheep", it is a "government scam", the vaccine is "poison", the "media is the virus" etc. There was a DJ there who churned out tunes under a Free2Dance banner.

It's really hard to fathom that people can have this mindset 18 months into this hellish journey we've all been on with Covid. I try to understand, I genuinely do, and I have in the past explained some of the mad notions people I know have away by imagining that anger is an easier emotion to sit with than fear. And for most of us, since the pandemic consumed our world, there has been a lot of fear and uncertainty surrounding it.

But I don't think that any longer. People who are crowing about freedoms, shouting at others for wearing masks and trying to protect themselves, saying that Covid is a hoax and no worse than a flu and spouting absolute nonsense about vaccines are just selfish and their nonsense should be challenged at every opportunity, because it is dangerous and can and will lead to more deaths.

I think we need to face facts. Some people are just not capable of absorbing real medical facts, not able to understand basic statistics or follow simple safety advice from experienced medical professionals designed to keep them healthy, because it's uncomfortable for them.

They prefer to get their information from random, vastly and ridiculously unqualified people on social media who tell them what they want to hear – that this is nothing to worry about, go on with your life, it's not that bad, the government and media are trying to control you, fight back – just so they can get hits on YouTube, make money and make a name for themselves.

The problem is, the stick-your-head-in-the-sand and 'stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears- and-say-la-la-la' approach means that some of those people who believe this nonsense will end up in hospital and some of them will die.

It means that Covid will continue to run rampant in our communities, putting our health service under immense pressure, taking resources away from other treatments, dragging this hell out for longer than needs be, causing more death and illness.

Another dangerous and threatening aspect to all of this is the hostility towards our health workers. Our NHS workers are not only exhausted by fighting a deadly virus on the wards but a serious sickness on the streets, the main symptoms of which are a complete lack of sense, responsibility and a total inability to see logic.

In a similar march in London, struck-off nurse Kate Shemirani stood on the steps of Trafalgar Square and told a cheering crowd that doctors and nurses should "be hung" as in the Nuremberg trials.

This nonsense, that our health workers are somehow trying to trick people, that they are somehow doing anything besides trying their damndest to save people's lives, has to be challenged rigorously at every opportunity.

Rhetoric like that which was spewed from the stage in London, in Dublin, in Belfast will result in attacks on our health workers, who have been at the front line of this relentless battle for nearly two years now. We must protect them.

I know paramedics who have faced serious anti-vax hostility while working trying to save lives. I know nurses who face the same in hospitals. I can see their fear. It needs to stop.

Our health workers are our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. They are our family. They are our friends. They need to know we have their backs.


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