Thursday, 3 December 2020

The UK: Vaccines are no substitute for government competence

With some healthy scepticism

I have already alluded to my concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, fundamentally, I belong in the cohort of people who will be considered for early inoculation. Just a few weeks ago I had both my influenza and pneumonia jabs. For travel purposes, I need to have certain vaccines, but I cannot take live vaccines like the Yellow Fever vaccine.

When the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) decided to authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19 yesterday, I thought we were too ahead of the game where the US and Europe had not even progressed that far. Our ministers got quite excited about the prospect of a vaccine and even suggested Brexit allowed our alacrity. Well, that is not really true. [BBC News: UK vaccine approval: Did Brexit speed up the process?] [NewScientist: Everything you need to know about the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine]

There’s always a stupid minister

Then, we could rely on our Secretary for the Department of Education, Gavin Williamson to say something crass and stupid. “I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators – much better than the French, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have. That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.” [The Independent: ‘We’re a much better country’: Brexit not the reason UK approved vaccine first, Williamson suggests]

Now, we have every reason to be proud of our country, but hubris, superciliousness and exceptionalism are very unhelpful traits that becloud the ability to be reasonable and smart, especially in these uncertain times. More than ever, we need global cooperation to tackle this pandemic, and eradicating it requires its eradication everywhere. We cannot afford to have clusters of infection lurking in a corner of the world ready to be unleashed on us again.

They seek a talisman

Having a vaccine will help, the vaccines are as a result of human ingenuity in the face of global adversity, the deployment and notably if widely efficacious will allow us all to return to a kind of normal that was all but lost for most of the year 2020. However, there are reasons other countries or regional blocs have not been that forward with authorising vaccines and I do not think it is just red tape.

Then, my view is the UK government sees the vaccine as a talisman, a kind of gamechanger, the possible exculpatory activity that might just absolve them from the rank incompetence and ineptitude that we have witnessed to date in their handling of this pandemic, the PPE logistics was a sham, the releasing of infected people into care homes at the onset of the pandemic cause avoidable carnage, the testing regime was a numbers game without the track-and-trace element to ensure the virus was kept in check and we have the most number of deaths in Europe at 59,699 and are ranked at the 5th globally. [COVID19Info.live]

Not in their abilities

Any government with that abysmal track record would love to put all that in the rear-view window with the talisman and panacea of a vaccine. Unfortunately, the government has not demonstrated they will pull this off.

I am not the only one with this view, Tobias Ellwood, a prominent Conservative Party MP, had this to say, “No.10 is overwhelmed… These are friends of mine, but they are not trained in crisis management and strategic planning or indeed in emergency response.”

In other words, there will never be a substitute for competence, many vaccines, a magic wand, a wishing well, or the jingoistic bombastic bluster of our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson with his war cries of vacuous optimism will not make up for the catastrophe the Coronavirus pandemic became of the United Kingdom, especially England. I will eventually have the vaccine, but now is not the time.

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