Colin Brazier: Doctors who choose to be unvaccinated have earned the right to be heard
'How many dedicated doctors are we about to sacrifice on the altar of dogmatism?'
Kate Goodman realised she wanted to be a doctor when she was five. At school, she got the grades, studied medicine at Dundee University and now practices in Gateshead. She’s never appeared on TV before, until yesterday.
She joined me to discuss a story I was doing about a growing shortage of surgeons. We talked about that, and with a couple of minutes of our interview to spare, I wondered what she made of the doctor in London, who last week shocked Sajid Javid, by telling the Health Secretary he hadn’t been jabbed.
This was her response: "I'm actually unvaccinated myself so I'm set to lose my job in April."
I wasn’t alone in being astonished by that admission. Many of you have been in touch with us and with Dr Goodman. Her interview, it’s available in full on my twitter feed, was nothing short of a revelation and I want to explain why.
First, she isn’t a headbanger; a zealot; an anti-vax fanatic. She was just a doctor who feels sufficiently strongly that people have a right to resist compulsory vaccinations that she is prepared to risk everything.
On April the first, yes, April Fool’s Day, she will lose her job, as things currently stand.
Kate was recently married and has just taken out a mortgage. Personally, I’m far too much a coward to contemplate jeopardising my livelihood on a point of principle like that. But Kate Goodman is clearly made of sterner stuff.
Second, before some of you dismiss her as misguided or misinformed or conspiratorial, let me remind you of this. When coronavirus broke on our unsuspecting shores, Dr Goodman worked on a covid ward for a year. This was the early days; the days of lousy PPE, before vaccines were out of the lab.
She was repeatedly exposed to covid, but never caught it. One of those lucky young, healthy people with high natural immunity. But she’s seen what covid can do and believes the old and vulnerable are right to get jabbed and, in my case, boosted.
Third, Kate Goodman presents us with a choice. Should we go along with her dismissal. Not just her sacking, but the loss of 80 to 90 thousand NHS staff who have so far declined compulsory vaccinations? We can ill-afford their absence from the medical front-line.
It would be a waste in other ways. It costs the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds to train a doctor. Are we really willing to say to her – and others – thanks for risking your life on the covid wards; we clapped for you from our doorsteps; but our NHS can no longer afford to harbour conscientious objectors. Oh, and good luck with that mortgage.
Fourth, what of the risks? Okay, Dr Goodman has never – knowingly – had covid. But what if she carries it asymptomatically? Well, she points out that vaccines don’t stop transmissions. She says her patients support her choice, while NHS managers don’t.
Today we asked them for a response to last night’s interview. They wouldn’t get into specifics, other than to say:
“We are supporting our staff, giving people every opportunity to discuss concerns and supporting them to make an informed decision. Ultimately, this is an individual choice.”
Which, of course technically, it is. But for Kate Goodman, it’s a Hobson’s Choice, in other words no choice at all.
The irresistible force of NHS compulsion meeting the immovable object of a woman who won’t be cowed. The more I thought about her interview yesterday evening, the more I was impressed.
Hers is a balanced, reasoned objection. Kate Goodman is not a spittle-flecked Twitter warrior. Her months on the Covid wards have earned her the right to be heard.
She thinks the vaccines represent the best of science and says people like me are right to get jabbed. But she also thinks vaccine science is new and not tested in the long run. Dr Goodman believes that its universal application is doctrinaire and inflexible.
That all patients are different and respond differently and, that if she poses no threat, she ought not be forced to inoculate.
Listening to her self-evident reasonableness yesterday, her softly-spoken bedside manner, we are entitled to ask: how many dedicated doctors are we about to sacrifice on the altar of dogmatism.
The medical director for Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, Andy Beeby, responded to the interview: