Building Blocks, vaccinations and Northern Ireland
First things first. 100 not out. What an achievement by South Leeds Life.
It was a great pleasure to attend the celebration of the 100th edition of the South Leeds Life newspaper at the Rowland Road Working Men’s Club recently. There was a great turnout of supporters and citizen journalists who write for the paper, and Jeremy Morton – who has made the whole thing possible – had put up around the room the front cover of all 100 editions. It was like watching your life flash before your eyes.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you want to know what’s happening in South Leeds, you need look no further than this wonderful publication. Here’s to a double century!
The other joyous event I attended in September was at the Building Blocks Nursery in Beeston to celebrate its 20th anniversary. This great community nursery has cared for some 2,500 children over the years as it has nurtured future generations. It was also a chance to say thank you to the people who formed Faith Together in Leeds 11 all those years ago because they believed in change for the better in our community. They didn’t give up and Building Blocks was the result. It’s a living and breathing example of what we can achieve when we work together.
I was looking at vaccination statistics the other day – as one does in this job – and I read that in 2022/23, 12 out of the 14 main vaccinations saw a lower uptake than the year before, including the MMR jab that protects us against measles, mumps, and rubella.
England is still continuing to miss key targets on the vaccination of children, and this has real consequences. There was an outbreak of measles in Leeds over the summer and it’s an infection that spreads very easily and can cause serious illness in some people, including children.
Having the MMR vaccine is the best way to prevent it but we know that the take-up of MMR was damaged by false research published by a doctor in the late 1990s who claimed to have discovered a link between the MMR jab, bowel disease and autism. This research, published in the Lancet, caused a large drop in the number of children given the triple jab. As a result, coverage fell to 80%, well below the recommended 95%. The ‘research’ was eventually discredited, and the doctor was struck off for acting in a dishonest, misleading and irresponsible way. But the damage had been done.
The truth about vaccinations is that serious, long-lasting side effects are extremely rare, and the benefits far outweigh any risk in terms of the number of people who are saved from serious illness or death. What’s more, low vaccination rates do not just threaten individuals. They also jeopardise the herd immunity which keeps vulnerable people, who are not able to be vaccinated, safe.
Vaccination is the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and our children against ill health. They prevent millions of deaths worldwide every year, and since vaccines were first used in the UK, diseases like smallpox, polio and tetanus that used to kill or disable millions of people are either gone or are now very rarely seen.
And that’s why those who spread misinformation on social media about vaccines – including about Covid vaccines – are putting the health of all of us at risk. And, by the way, the story that the Covid vaccination was being used to inject us all with microchips – yes, I actually got emails claiming this during the pandemic – was a load of utter rubbish.
I’ve just been appointed as the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, as I write this, I’m about to go on my first trip in this new role.
I originally went to Northern Ireland about 23 years ago as a newly elected backbench MP. It was shortly after the signing of the historic Belfast Good Friday agreement.
We went to Belfast and visited first unionist and then nationalist communities. The conversations we had about jobs, housing and the importance of community organisations were very familiar, but I realised it was also a very different place when I found myself standing in the middle of a suburban park that could have been in Leeds, apart from the fact that there was an 8 foot green steel fence running right through the middle of it. Why? To keep the two communities apart.
The next day we went to Portadown where there used to be serious clashes during the annual march organised by the Orange Order. When it paraded down the Garvaghy Road, it mightily angered the local nationalist community who lived there.
We ended up in a hall to meet representatives from across the community, and I remember being struck how some of them had clearly never met each other before in a town of just 30,000 people.
Things have certainly changed for the better since then, although at the moment there is no power-sharing government at Stormont. It is a reminder that in a place which has been experienced so much dispute, division and violence over 800 years, it is even more important than ever that people put their differences aside and work together for the common good.
First published in the October 2023 edition of South Leeds Life, available online here https://southleedslife.com/mps-notebook-building-blocks-vaccinations-and-northern-ireland/