MY heart takes a little cold shudder inside my chest every time I read another story about an anti-vaxxer or Covid denier dying. The news is full of these pitiful modern morality tales of late: men and women gasping their last, repenting their decisions, regretting they listened to quacks, profiteering conspiracists, arrogant-dumb politicians and hack journalists.

A rush of empathetic grief goes through me for the families of the dead. Like them, I’ve a loved one who refuses to take the vaccine and who believes in the conspiracy theories surrounding the virus: that it’s a government plot to cull the elderly and control us all.

I loathe the gloaters online who mock the dead. I’m with the poet John Donne when it comes to loss. ‘Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee’. ‘No man is an island’, he wrote. ‘Each man’s death diminishes me.’

The foolishness of anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers cannot be disputed. Their selfish folly clearly puts others at risk and breaks the hearts of their families – but in death nobody deserves mockery. Nor should their families suffer insult. I’m without faith and not given to superstition, but if there’s karma in the universe, then to laugh and sneer at loss of life is surely to invite much-deserved suffering onto yourself.

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This is a terrible thing to say, but I now wait almost daily for some awful news about my loved one: that they’ve caught the virus. That they’re hospitalised. Or worse. Ideas too horrible to contemplate. The majority of those now in hospital with Covid in Britain are unvaccinated. Most regret their descent into this modern-day death cult.

I love this person. They’re now in their late 70s. They’ve the lung condition COPD – a life shortener in itself. They smoked most of their life. They aren’t fit. They’ve the other illnesses of old age. Covid would pick them up, toy with them for a while, and cast them aside before moving on to other stronger bodies and souls.

There’s nothing I or other friends and family can do. You cannot force anyone into a medical procedure against their will. My loved one will now no longer talk to me. They want no challenge to their beliefs. So me and other loved ones have been cast aside because we represent a refutation of their crank philosophies. That’s especially painful. Consider yourself if someone you loved – and have loved all your life – cut off contact with you at a time when today or tomorrow might be the very last occasion you ever get to speak to them if the worst should happen.

This is a cruelty which will make any loss all the more painful to bear if the time does come.

HeraldScotland: A mountain rescue box covered with anti-vaxx stickersA mountain rescue box covered with anti-vaxx stickers

I’ve thought long and hard about who is responsible for my loved one’s journey into conspiracy. Of course, they must carry the full weight of their choices. However, there are others who have helped them down this path, and I reserve an especial contempt for these people: quacks, profiteering conspiracists, arrogant-dumb politicians and hack journalists.

Alongside my loved one’s wilder imaginings – those ideas about culling the old and controlling the population – they often return to one abiding theme: the inability of politicians to settle on a position when it comes to tackling Covid and stick to it. In one of our last conversations, before they cut me adrift, they said: “But the government keep changing their mind. They say one thing one day, another the next. They keep altering things. If this was real, then they’d have a policy and not change it.”

I can argue against conspiracy. I can point out the folly of quacks and hacks. But I cannot disagree with my loved one when they look at the governments of these islands and see something deeply wrong in the persistent u-turns and switches in public messaging and advice and guidance around the virus.

The wife of one anti-vaxxer who died of Covid recently said that he was affected by “chopping and changing by the government”. Official indecision and uncertainty creates fear in all of us – and amid Covid that’s a potentially lethal combination. One expert in conspiracy, psychologist Dr Susannah Kola-Palmer, says: “What tends to underpin conspiracy theory … is that they come from a place of strong emotion, be that resentment, discontent or fear.”

All four governments across Britain have dithered and prevaricated throughout the pandemic, but Boris Johnson’s administration careens around so much on Covid policy – like that infamous wobbly shopping trolley, Dominic Cummings compared the PM to – that it seems almost designed to fuel uncertainty, which leads to fear, which leads to conspiracy and doubt.

The latest indecision and confusion centres on vaccine passports for England. One minute they’re on, the next they’re off, then they might be back on again. Masks are gone, but they might be back. The same with homeworking.

The worst of the journalist profession all but assume the role of medical professionals – terrifying and confusing their audiences. In September, Talk Radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer scorned the idea of “200 deaths a day”. Come January, the UK reached the grim milestone of “the highest number of UK deaths reported on a single day since the outbreak began” – 1820.

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Today, Hartley-Brewer rails against the idea of vaccinations for children. Tory MP Marcus Fysh demanded on Talk Radio that England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty should resign for recommending vaccinations for children aged 12-15. GB News peddles hysteria around Covid and platforms quack cures.

It pains me as a journalist to say this, but when it comes to future inquiries into the failings which exacerbated the pandemic it shouldn’t just be politicians on the stand forced to justify themselves, it should be the worst of my own profession too. Throughout modern history, whenever governments have made terrible mistakes, there has always been reporters standing behind them egging them on, justifying and propagandising.

When this is all over quacks, profiteering conspiracists, arrogant-dumb politicians and hack journalists – all of them – need brought to account. Human beings have died while these people lined their pockets.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald