Can we stay friends?

'The chances are most of us will survive this. Let's not do anything we can't live with afterwards.'

In Thomas Keneally's book 'Flying Hero Class' there's a line that has stayed in my mind over the years. The situation is the hijacking of a passenger plane. A group of passengers has been singled out by the hijackers to show an example to the others. Stripped to their underwear and humiliated, they've been shoved into the hold where they are cold and, without toilet facilities, increasingly filthy. They are trying to make a plan to overwhelm the hijackers and one of the focus characters says, 'The chances are most of us will survive this. Let's not do anything we can't live with afterwards.'

Covid has changed our way of life and caused governments to impose restrictions which are usually reserved for times of war. Even though we will soon reach over 90% of New Zealanders fully vaccinated, so it must be only a small minority who object, vaccination is causing rifts. In my own family there are those who consider the vaccination and other restrictions unwarranted, even dangerous, and those who are immune-compromised and keen for protection. The same is true among my friends and other social groups and in some cases animosity is rising.

As for me, I'm fully vaccinated because it seems the right thing to do for the good of the community: to lessen the grip the virus has on our way of life, to make sure our already stretched health system is not over-burdened and to reassure friends and family who are concerned for my health or their own. I don't often get sick so I'm not particularly afraid of the virus for myself but as I'm approaching 70 perhaps I should be a little concerned. A recent bout of a (different) respiratory virus took longer than usual to shake off, showing I'm perhaps not as resilient as I was 20 years ago.

I'm also not afraid of vaccines. I've had quite a few in my time: the first I remember is lining up at school for the polio vaccine in the form of drops on my tongue. I don't recall any children being exempted by their parents; the memory of the terrible effects of polio was still vivid. My own grandfather was affected and had his withered leg amputated, a source of fascination to us kids.

When I set out on my OE I had to have a number of vaccines for diseases such as cholera and smallpox. I was required to carry a yellow card which recorded that I had had those. The card was checked at every border and I would not have been allowed to continue without it. (Sound familiar?) I can recall one unscrupulous guard at the Turkish border trying to tell me I needed more injections and expecting to be paid off to let me through, but I stood my ground on both scores and after some delay went on my way.

Most recently, prior to Covid, my daughter asked me to make sure my pertussis vaccination was up to date before meeting my new granddaughter. I saw my doctor about that and got a shot with a tetanus booster thrown in. I wouldn't have sought those out but they did me no harm, reassured my daughter and all is well. In no case did I have any idea what was in the vaccines – disease-defeating stuff, I assumed. I trusted that my doctor would have my best interests in mind when she offered what was needed.

My main thought about the present situation is that the greatest risk to most of us* is not to our health through having the vaccine or even through getting Covid, but to our relationships by having conflict over it. Can we hear each other's points of view without having to shout them down? Can we respect each other's choices and do whatever it takes to help each other feel safe? That might mean wearing a mask when it doesn't seem necessary, staying home when we have a cough or keeping our distance in some circumstances. If we love our family and friends, of course we want them to feel safe. Perhaps we want to argue with them in order to make sure they are doing the best for their health, but we each have different views about what's best. Can we respect that?

Most of us will survive this. Let's make sure we can look each other in the eye when it's over and still be friends.

*current infection rate in NZ 25 per 100,00 in the last 7 days. Source: Reuters Covid tracker 30 November 2021