Tony Blair has said he was “a little too undiplomatic” in calling people idiots if they had not yet had a Covid-19 vaccine.
The former Labour prime minister appeared to row back on remarks he had made in an interview with Times Radio on Wednesday morning, as he spoke about encouraging vaccine take-up.
Asked about the remark by BBC Radio 4’s PM on Wednesday night, the former Labour prime minister said: “Possibly I was a little too undiplomatic in my use of language.”
Mr Blair, who since being in power has founded the non-governmental Tony Blair Institute, added: “We have got a piece of work out in the field at the moment as an institute, and I think the Government should do the same – just investigating what is the profile, what are the reasons why people are not getting vaccinated.
“You have, as a Government, got to go out and try individually to persuade these people. If this goes on for some time this will be a big problem for us.”
Speaking to Times Radio the same day, Mr Blair had said: “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.
“I’m sorry, I mean that is, truthfully you are. Because this Omicron variant is so contagious, if you’re unvaccinated and you’re in circulation, you’re going to get it. And that is going to put a lot of strain on the health service.”
He added: “We shouldn’t target these people who are unvaccinated in a heavy-handed way, but we should be trying to go after them and persuade them.
“There may be all sorts of reasons but, honestly, it is in their own interest, never mind the public interest, for them to get vaccinated.”
Mr Blair answered “no” when asked if he would have introduced restrictions this Christmas, telling Times Radio this was not because “some great piece of data” would emerge, but because of the “pain” of a full lockdown, that people have “been through too much”, and because there are too many different categories of people when it comes to vaccination for the “blunt instrument of a lockdown really to work in the way that you want”.
He later told the BBC that the pandemic could currently be at its “most serious moment” if not introducing measures proved to lead to an increase in hospital admissions with Covid.
Asked about the allegations of parties at No 10 Downing Street, Mr Blair told Times Radio: “It’s not helpful.”
He said he did not want to get into the subject other than to say he has “a lot of sympathy for people who are working there”, but added “you have got to be careful, particularly when what you do will have an impact on what other people do”.
He also said the decision to vaccinate people under the age of 12 should have been taken “some time ago”, adding “I don’t know what we’re waiting for”.
Mr Blair’s institute, this week, published a report which recommends how the Government could improve its future response to Covid-19.
The recommendations included a taskforce to encourage those not yet vaccinated to come forward for a jab, in particular, those over 50 years old who are more at risk of hospital admission from Covid-19.