I’VE never used this column before to ask readers for help – but that’s what I’m doing today as I really do need your help. Sometimes the kindness of strangers – the wisdom of strangers – is all another human being has got to fall back on when times get tough.

Someone very close to me – someone I love very, very much – is refusing to take the Covid vaccine. I’ve tried love and reason, I’ve tried begging, I’ve tried telling them how frightened the rest of our wider family and friends are for their health and safety, but nothing I say matters. They won’t listen to me or anyone else. I’ve not tried threats or anger. I don’t want to do that. I fear it would just exacerbate things and alienate them.

I know there are thousands of families across Scotland in similar situations. In Britain, it’s estimated that about 15% of people either have refused or will refuse the vaccine. In other countries, the situation is worse. Nearly a quarter of people in France, America and Germany say they definitely or probably won’t get vaccinated against Covid. That’s tens of millions of people in the western world – and tens of millions of panicking, worried folk like my family and friends who don’t know what on Earth to do or who to turn to for help and advice.

READ MORE NEIL MACKAY: The cult of QAnon

Of course, the threat to wider society from all these vaccine-refusers far outweighs the upset and fear my family alone is experiencing – clearly such behaviour risks prolonging the pandemic and killing more people. I speak here as just one person about the pain this is causing to one ordinary family and its group of friends.

Let me take this story back to the beginning. Firstly, I cannot say any more about my loved one. I love them – I don’t want to shame them. So I won’t even identify them by sex. All I will say is that they’re in the older age group, and therefore much more at risk from Covid than me and most of our extended family and friends.

Right from the beginning, they’ve denied the existence of the pandemic. Firstly, it was just a flu. Then it was a scam for politicians to control us and limit our freedoms. Then it was a plot to cull the elderly.

I worry that just writing these conspiracy theories down could trigger such behaviour in others, but I need to explain the thought processes of my loved one if I’m seeking the advice of others on what to do, or where to turn, next.

I speak by phone to my loved one regularly. Throughout their life, they’ve always been prone to slightly wild conspiracy theories – of the Alien/Roswell/Area 51 type. Friends and family always saw this as nothing but a little strange eccentricity that sometimes made for weird dinner table conversations. It was odd, but harmless, we thought. Now, in hindsight, perhaps it was an indicator of more troubling events to come.

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When the pandemic started, my loved one was incensed by government ‘stay at home’ orders. This, they felt, was fascist one day, communist the next. I should point out that my loved one is politically nondescript – marginally more to the left than right, but not an extremist at all.

Extended family and friends tried reasoning with them, but they wouldn’t listen. We were all just obedient sheep with no backbone, prepared to throw our rights away. The only reason my loved one wears a mask is so they can go out. They don’t believe they can catch Covid.

We told them that they weren’t just putting themselves at risk but were endangering others. We were told everything we believed about the pandemic was phoney. Everything should be doubted. There was even one period when they said they didn’t believe death levels and that images of overstretched hospitals overseas were false.

I tried to explain that for a conspiracy theory like this to work everyone – politicians, doctors, police, journalists, every scientist, the UN, the army – millions of people would have to be in on it. Yes, they said, that’s entirely possible.

It was at this stage that I began to limit contact with my loved one. Out of all our friends and family I’d tried the hardest, but the negative effect on me of listening to these delusions every time we talked on the phone was becoming psychologically debilitating. I cut phone calls down to once every few weeks.

Then recently as older relatives and friends began getting notifications for their vaccine, I texted my loved one and asked if they were getting their shot too. Radio Silence. I rang them, and was told they wouldn’t be getting the injection. I asked why. The vaccine didn’t work, I was told, or else it would have horrible – perhaps fatal – side effects, or maybe there was some sinister plot. What, I asked? Do you think Bill Gates is going to microchip you? There was no answer.

So again I begged. I pleaded. I didn’t get angry. I tried to rationalise. It was useless, pointless. I later spoke to our friends and family and sent a text the next day saying we were all worried and fearful. We love you, I said – we want you to live and be with us for years to come. Please reconsider. In return, silence.

READ MORE NEIL MACKAY: Conspiracy theories

Shamefully, I’ve not yet had the courage to try again – to beg once more for them to take the vaccine. I plan to do so tomorrow. But I’ve run out of arguments. I don’t know what else to say to help this person who I love so much. I don’t want them to die.

So I would ask you, readers, what should I do? Many of you might have shared similar experiences – what did you do? Perhaps, there are experts out there who can advise me. Have my family and friends and I done the right thing so far? What else can we do now?

Please write into the Herald and let me know or post a comment here under this column online. 

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