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- Former prime minister of the United Kingdom (born 1953)
Watch: Tony Blair says unvaccinated are ‘idiots’
Tony Blair has said Brits who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are "not just irresponsible... but idiots".
The former prime minister said getting vaccinated is not only in the interests of the individual, but also in the interests of the broader public.
Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that 42% of people admitted to hospital in England have not had a single vaccine dose, despite making up just 19% of the population.
Hospitalisation rates are significantly higher among the unvaccinated in every age-group, with the difference becoming even more pronounced in older people.
"Frankly, if you’re not vaccinated at the moment, and you’re eligible, and you’ve got no health reason for not being vaccinated – you’re not just irresponsible, I mean, you’re an idiot," Blaie told Times Radio.
"This Omicron variant is so contagious. You know, if you’re unvaccinated, and you’re in circulation, you’re going to get it."
He went on to criticise those refusing the vaccine for taking up ICU capacity.
"[The unvaccinated are] going to put a lot of strain on the on the health service. I mean, almost half the people in the ICU are unvaccinated, and it’s really important," Blair said.
“They must really think about the damage they are doing to society,” the health secretary told Sky News.
“They take up hospital beds that could have been used for someone with maybe a heart problem, or maybe someone who is waiting for elective surgery.”
Blair said that while it was important not to be "heavy-handed", the issue needed to be addressed.
"We shouldn't go after these people in a heavy-handed way, but we should be trying to go after them and persuade them," said the former prime minister.
"You know, there could be all sorts of reasons.
"But, honestly, it is in their own interests - never mind the public interest - for them to get vaccinated.”
It is estimated more than 6m Brits eligible for jabs against the virus remain unvaccinated - many driven by conspiracy theories or concerns that the vaccine is unsafe, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
Vaccines have played a pivotal role in preventing lockdowns in countries across the world, with estimates suggesting that over 125,000 lives have been saved in the UK alone.
While vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing catching COVID, they greatly reduce the risk of symptomatic and severe infection.
The emergence of the new Omicron variant risked undermining the efficacy of the vaccine rollout, after it emerged two doses offer little protection against symptomatic infection.
The government is attempting to massively ramp up the booster programme, following evidence showing that a third jab dramatically increases protection against the new strain.
Watch: COVID and Omicron – How are countries around the world responding to the increasing cases?