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Corona Diaries: twenty-one days to salvation

February 9, 2021

Down the back street of a town near London, the signs pointed the way: Vaccination Centre. A couple of miles beyond, teams of people were knocking on doors, dropping off test kits in an effort to find and isolate those who have succumbed to the dreaded South African variant. Salvation so near, yet so far away.

My turn for the jab came a couple of days ago. At the centre in Woking, the whole process was as efficient as an airline check-in but without the queues. Within ten minutes it was done. Not by a doctor or a nurse, but by a cheerful person in her twenties whose normal job is working in logistics at Heathrow Airport. Next to her, another equally enthusiastic woman who normally works for British Airways as cabin crew member. She seemed to be delighted to have a clientele who actually appreciated the work she was doing.

Most of the people doing the meet and greet are volunteers. You go in, are sent to an assessment station manned by someone who seemed to be in the healthcare business but perhaps wasn’t. He made sure you were healthy enough to get the jab.

The centre was a happy place, in stark contrast to the COVID wards in the nearby hospitals in Chertsey and Guildford. There was an esprit de corps you rarely see in any activity run by government, be it local or national (except, of course, in our parish councils, which, if YouTube is to be believed, are hotbeds of unity and sense of purpose).

And how does it feel to be one of the twelve million Brits who have received a first dose? A sense of the beginning of the end, perhaps. A feeling that in twenty-one days, once the protection offered by the vaccine kicks in, one can start making plans beyond the next trip to the supermarket, the next walk in the park. Not that there aren’t plenty of other things that can lay you low. But they’re already discounted.

When twelve million becomes twenty, thirty and forty million, unless the vaccines turn out to be colossal failures, or unless new variants knock them out of the park, we must surely arrive at a state that is at least familiar, if not normal in pre-COVID terms.

But wait.

Could it be that the vaccine that went into my arm is ineffective against the destroyer from Durban? What’s this I hear from the BBC and other sources? Did we back the wrong horse? Is this why South Africa, home of the danger variant, is suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine? Worse still, can there be a greater cause for disquiet than when Boris Johnson tells us that we should be confident in its efficacy?

Is this why the government is trialling mix-and-match, so that people like me, who immediately think about trading in my dose for the Pfizer jab, can be reassured?

On the upside, I feel fine. The lizard brain is quiescent. No sign of green scales yet. But this pandemic has more twists and turns than the Sopranos. Thoughts of a return to a modified version of normal start to recede. But actually, I’m inclined to buy the government’s new line, which is that if the current jabs prevent most of us from getting seriously ill or dying, that should be good enough for most of us.

It would certainly be good enough for me.

Looking behind our current travails, I’m curious to know what happens to all those millions of vials, needles and plastic syringes. Do they get recycled, or, in the case of the glass and metal components, sterilised and re-used? If not, why not?

Another thought, purely related to our tenuously United Kingdom, is that this could be the year when Big Pharma redeems itself. The miraculous production of billions of doses of COVID vaccine, once delivered to all countries rather than just the richest, is an effective reputational counterbalance to the image of grasping multinationals keen to hook us all on opioids, steroids and other drugs that have no guard rails against abuse.

What’s more, since we’re so reliant on science to get us out of the COVID mess, could we see its raised profile as a catalyst that leads to the country actually turning into the powerhouse of science and engineering that over-optimistic narratives suggest we already are? Certainly there’s been an increase in recent years of people seeking degrees in STEM subjects as opposed to the liberal arts.

Though I’m a product of a non-scientific education, I’m all in favour of our creating more scientists and engineers, provided they don’t disappear overseas or remain in the UK to build weapons of destruction. And if science rather than financial services ends up sitting at the top of the economic tree, I shall shed no tears for the hedge fund operators, the derivative speculators and the money-laundering oligarchs they will replace.

There’s a way to go before we get to that point, but we certainly have science to thank for what looks like the first pop-up industry in recorded history.

We take for granted that every year there will be a vaccine tweaked to deal with the latest mutations of the flu. But the idea that we shall also be rolling out an autumn booster for COVID armed against the latest versions from South Africa, Brazil and wherever else mutations appear in the meanwhile, and that the new jab might be delivered to half the population in an operation similar to the current effort, is staggering.

So given that the national objective is to vaccinate everyone over 18, it looks as though we shall be busy filling arms throughout the rest of the year.

Who would have thought that in 2021 one of the biggest growth areas for jobs in Britain would be vaccinators to keep COVID at bay? And could it be that the current generation of school children will turn in increasing numbers towards careers in science, for so long a relatively poor relation in the job stakes?

If they do, let’s hope that for once, after the pandemic has passed, we cherish and reward them.

From → Social, UK

  1. Margaret Richardson permalink

    Great to hear you have had the vaccine Steve and here’s to a healthier future for all. Let’s just hope that BJ can be trusted on this one!

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