Saturday 19 December 2020

Hearts and minds

Gorra vaccine! Indeed we have a clatter of different vaccines to choose from. Mine's a Pfizer spritzer, thanks. Some people naively believe that, with vaccines, we have knocked Covid19 on the head. Or at least that vaccines provide a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Without vaccines, the prognosis for global Covid19 is kinda crappy. Except in those places, mostly on the other side of the World, which went at the pandemic firstest with the mostest and isolated cases, traced contacts, and later started testing their citizens left and right. Test Track Isolate works. But b'god it's hard work, especially the tracking which is really labour-intensive and, I guess, emotionally draining. And for whatever reason, the Irish Government dropped that ball.

Now We The World have the vaccine and the population has been triaged into 15 categories: starting with 1) any elderly residents of care-homes that survived the holocaust of The First Wave 2) front-line workers . . . and so on to . . . 14) healthy "non-essential"18-54 y.o.s . . . 15) children and pregnant women. Some people optimistically believe that having given everyone a draft number, they will all rock up to the appropriate vax-centrum at their appointed time. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, it's all about the presentation, innit? hmmm, in 2015, the Irish Government, under pressure from the EU Troika [remember that?], created a new utility Irish Water to deliver "safe, clean and affordable water and waste water services". What's not to like about that? Very few people drink water from their own wells and keeping the nation's kitchen tap water reliably free of Cryptosporidium and Coliforms cannot be done for nothing. The creation of Irish Water was a political disaster because charging people direct for their consumption seemed a no-brainer to Phil Hogan, the Local Government minister, so he just told his Department "make it so". It was a no-brainer for [institutionalised] me also: it consolidated far too numerous, thus overmanned, thus inefficient, water authorities and provided a dedicated income stream to up-grade the leady, leaky, Victorian infrastructure of clean water delivery. Nobody likes to pay taxes, especially a chilling recession, but I stumped up; for the community, like.

If he'd been more in tune with ordinary people's sensitivities, hurting after the Bank Crash, Hogan might have sold the plan to them rather than imposing it. This is the same Phil Hogan who, on foot of the debacle, landed the lucrative fish of EU Commissioner for Agriculture and the same fellow who resigned this summer because of further blindness to the optics of his actions. It was a lesson that the plain people of Ireland [I guess like any other demographic; even a convention of particle physicists] are not much impressed by data & evidence but can be played swayed by appealing to their emotions. The water protest changed the political landscape by giving traction to the rise of numerous demogogues independents across the country: there are now 19 of them across 39 constituencies.

What to do about the Vax Rollout? Even if it works as the best possible strategy for a return to normal economic and social life, the plain people of Ireland may baulk and refuse the jump. Vaccination strategy only works if there is significant take-up: the exact number varying according to the infectivity and spreadability of whatever scourge is being controlled. It's no good saying that this or that group of scientists are all for it. That's evidence based, and of course it helps, but it may not be enough. We had a Wexford Science Café Zoom last Tuesday where these issues were discussed. We're all scientists there, but there are also some folks smarter, and more people-sensitive,  than me. They appreciated that there's no point preaching to the evidence choir out in the streets of the Sunny South East. And whatever happens it's got to be done right, right from the off. The various government departments [Health, Finance, Welfare, Justice], the too-many quangos and semi-states [HSE, NPHET, NVRL], all the talking heads of reason [Scally, de Gascun, O'Neill, Mills, Staines, Holohan] need to get together and Get The Rollout Right. We won't get a second chance; there is enough skepticism, truculence, and pissed-offery out there waiting to be called forth by The Media seeking to be bala-^-nced. The Vaxxers need to sweep almost everyone onto their side before the a wedge of polarisation entrenches positions beyond the reach of reason.

Best idea so far is to put on the County Jersey: most Irish people are [absurdly, irrationally] attached to their local GAA sports team and by extension to their county . . . even those who can't reliably spell sliotar [clue R, nó fada]. On roll-out day, in each county, get the media out in force to witness the first vaccineers:
  • a reasonably lucid and presentable [but frail-looking] elder from a nursing home
    • if this person has an All Ireland medal from the '50s, so much the better
  • the Captain of the county footie team
  • ditto Camogie
  • the local TD [promise them 100 rational votes next election]
  • the best connected local chap / youngwan who escaped from Ballybeg and made good in science [preferably in immunology or epidemiology] . . . might even be an ex-GAA player . . . could, with advantage, participate by video-link from Harvard [looking at you Aideen and Lydia!] or the Mayo Clinic.
  • Slogan: "We're Taking one for The Team"

Heard across the count[r]y that evening "Be the holy, Jimmy, I'll have some of that, where do I sign up?"

PS. And for a different demographic: an Insta-influencer, preferably with wild-coloured hair, preferably local-born

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