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Corona Diaries: looking above and below the vaccine parapet

January 20, 2021

One of the consequences of what could best be described as a history of well-meaning disinformation on the part of the British government during the COVID pandemic, or at worst, outright lies and unachievable promises, is that I’m somewhat uneasy about our current vaccine policy.

Much as I applaud the rate at which the population has been receiving first doses, I worry that the entire strategy is based on giving as many people as some degree of protection, while taking the chance, against the advice of the vaccine manufacturers, that the second dose can be delivered twelve weeks later, as opposed to three, and still provides the promised level of protection.

The only fact in which I have much confidence is that because the vaccines are so new, we simply don’t know what the consequences of late delivery of the second dose will be. However, early indications from Israel, that has given the highest percentage of its population the first dose thus far, are that the Pfizer vaccine gives a 50% protection, which is only increased to the advertised 95% after the second dose.

So it seems that the UK is embarked on a policy to give the maximum number of people some protection, rather than less people maximum protection. I get that, even though from a purely selfish standpoint I would like to have two doses in my arm as soon as possible. And even though the US, on the advice of the good Dr Fauci, has determined that the manufacturers’ recommendations should be followed, even at the cost of wider delivery of the first dose.

What I don’t get is that my government should be so coy about its policy. And why there isn’t more discussion on influential media such as the BBC as to the sense or otherwise of delaying the second dose? On yesterday’s BBC evening news broadcast, just about every aspect of the pandemic – the impact on the NHS, the statistics on infections, hospitalisations and deaths and the latest vaccination numbers – were discussed. But no mention of the number of second doses, and no acknowledgement that in our decision to stretch the period between first and second doses we’re an outlier.

Is that because the BBC has taken upon itself to maintain an open mind, or because it has been pushed by the government not to open up a controversial issue that might cause wide concern?

It’s becoming less fashionable these days to say “search the internet and you will find…”, because such an exercise can lead you to all kinds of bullshit. But one article in a mainstream media outlet, The Guardian, provides what seems to be a measured view of the risk we’re taking, based on input both from the World Health Organisation and the manufacturers themselves.

In a matter of such importance, it’s wrong to expect that we’ll simply accept that nanny knows best. The government needs to provide us with an informed justification of its policy. And if, as it seems, the reality is that it’s taking a huge risk, it should say so.

Another aspect of the vaccination effort concerns me. It’s not enough for a few nations to vaccinate their populations. As long as there are large parts of the world where countries haven’t been able to get hold of vaccines in sufficient quantities, or for one reason or another haven’t been able to set up effective vaccination programmes, there’s surely a danger that vaccine-resistant variants of the virus will spread, thereby invalidating successful vaccination programmes, putting countries that have vaccinated their populations at fresh risk.

If ever there was a case for concerted international action, whether or not through the WHO, to ensure that all countries, including the poorest and least equipped are vaccinated as soon as possible, it’s surely now. The largest industrial nations may be preoccupied with their own programmes, but they can’t ignore the worldwide dimension. Are we, the US, the EU, Japan, China and Russia doing enough? That’s not clear. We need to raise our view above the parapet and put pressure on our elected representatives to think globally. Would it not be sensible to consider diverting some of our foreign aid to this end?

The Director General of the WHO calls the inequitable distribution of vaccine throughout the world a “moral failure”. He’s certainly right, but perhaps he should have emphasised that it will also be a practical failure if we allow vaccine-resistant strains to plunge us all into a new crisis.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I await the call for my vaccination. It should come soon, according to my GP surgery. At least they have assured me that my data hasn’t been accidentally deleted, unlike the 400,000 records from the Police National Computer that were wiped out the other day.

These days we need to take comfort from small mercies, as well as worry about big issues.  And looking further on the bright side, what a joy it is that as of later today it will not be necessary to seed every second post with an insult aimed at Donald Trump’s direction.     

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