"Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship," according to the author Bruce Coville.

Much fanfare has been made in recent weeks over Boris’s claims that a Covid-19 vaccine is imminent. The news is promising and, if we can overcome the paranoia we have all now been saddled with, maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel and we may once again return to some semblance of normality.

But then the curious among us find our voice, about the who, what, where and how of such a ground-breaking initiative. Surprisingly, or maybe not so in our woke times, we were then shouted down in a blaze of fury. "You anti-vaxxer!" "How dare you question the vaccine and its potential for good!" when all we were guilty of was asking a question or five for clarity.

According to the Wellcome Trust, the average time to fully develop a vaccine is over a decade, with the discovery and research phase alone taking two to five years. Dr Jerome Kim, the director general of the International Vaccine Institute, has described the pharmaceutical companies’ response to Covid as "unprecedented".

But the telling statistic is that 93 per cent of vaccines fail between studies and public roll-out. This is where the alarm bells toll: with the desperation for a workable vaccine, one has to question how much capital politicians and drug companies have tied up in getting it over the line, and to rescind at this point would ultimately cost careers.

And yet the Labour Party, in the last week, has called for ‘emergency legislation’ to ‘stamp out’ anti-vaccinationist content on social media and the power to fine companies who fail to remove such content.

The shadow team have written to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden with their demands, claiming that "one person who does not take the vaccine because of harmful content is one too many".

This whole shebang strikes at the heart of our very democratic rights: If only we had known earlier about thalidomide then lives and undue hardship could have been saved and prevented. By inaction, and the inability to admit culpability, drug companies have been proven to put the bottom line above humanity, and those of us who question are branded ‘anti’, ‘naysayers’ and other such unpleasantries.

For the record I am not ‘anti’ a vaccine that, if it works, could bring us back to early 2020 and allow us to breathe, embrace and socialise with friends once again. To ask for clarity is a right, as is the right not to blindly follow government advice that thus far has been questionable at best.

How, if it takes an average of 12 years to fully test a vaccine, has this been rolled out in less than nine months? What specific tests were taken place? What are the potential side effects? What are the ‘consequences’ for those who choose not to take the vaccine?

We can see already the punishments are being lined up: Ticketmaster have declared they will use smart phones to "verify fans' vaccination status" before allowing entry to gigs. The airlines will, predictably, follow suit, effectively placing us on house arrest should we wish to question Pfizer’s vaccine and wait to see how things pan out for others, the early adopters, before taking the plunge ourselves.

The Royal Society and the British Academy believe it should be a ‘criminal offence’ to spread any anti-vaccination rhetoric and have gone as far as to call for the public to ‘report’ offenders. Calling for criminalisation and censorship of those who show any modicum of ‘dissent’ is an affront to our beloved freedom of speech, a freedom that is being eroded exponentially with each and every passing day. The self-styled liberals calling for such state intervention are proving to be utterly illiberal, and with 47 per cent of the population currently questioning the vaccine or refusing to take it, according to a recent Ipsos Mori poll, we are heading headlong into a dictatorship which has been exacerbated by the advent of Covid-19.

No, the vaccine is a wonderful thing, if it fulfils its promises, but challenging and questioning the mechanics of such a move is our right, and one we should not be silenced from airing, no matter how draconian the consequences that will be thrust upon us.

117 years ago, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in Friends of Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". All these years later we have finally proved just how much as a society we have regressed and for that, I am saddened in the extreme.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher