Students and young people were urged this week to make a distinction between Covid-19 and the fall-out from the pandemic, as they took part in a first of its kind seminar held under the auspices of the London Jewish Forum.
The discussion, which was partnered across the community by major Jewish organisations, is part of a number of conversations organised by the Greater London Authority and supported by Public Health England.
The event showcased three leading Jewish GPs — Dr Ellie Cannon, Dr Leonora Weil, and Dr Charlotte Benjamin — together with the dean of the London School of Jewish Studies, Rabbi Dr Raphi Zarum, giving a religious perspective.
In an open discussion, young people who have not yet been able to receive a vaccine because of their age — the vaccine rollout is taking place in reducing age cohorts — were able to ask questions and receive reassurance from the medical team.
Dr Cannon, well-known as Dr Ellie in TV and newspaper appearances, took part in the Oxford trials last year, as a vaccine guinea pig; Dr Benjamin, a Hendon GP, is vice-chair of the Central London Clinical Commissioning Group, and is the clinical lead for vaccine rollout in the region; while Dr Leonora Weil is a Public Health doctor working with a variety of different communities to increase COVID vaccine uptake as part of her role at Public Health England, London Region.
Among the issues raised by the youthful audience were concerns that COVID vaccines could affect fertility, or whether people could get ill from having the vaccine. Dr Benjamin said that it was expected that all young adults aged 18 plus would have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of July; Dr Weil said good information could be found on the Royal College of Obstetricians website, but none of the doctors said that there was any indication so far that fertility might be affected from being vaccinated.
Rabbi Zarum said there was a religious imperative for people to “look after themselves and their lives”, and encouraged younger people to take the vaccines as soon as their turn came.
Dr Cannon said: “The aim overall is to protect people from severe illness, hospitalisation and death. But there is a difference between getting the virus, and the ill effects of the pandemic. The vaccine will protect us from going back to 2020, with its job losses, cancelled exams.”
The doctors also spoke of the “huge impact” on mental health of the lockdowns and their “massive effect on young people. Dr Benjamin said one of the few “silver linings” to come out of the pandemic was that much more attention and financial help was being given to the mental health sector. All the doctors spoke of the importance of seeking data-based help but also talking to experts, and not spreading obvious misinformation on social media.
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