It’s my first article of the new year and I’d love to start with a litany of positive resolutions for the months ahead. Indeed, with the approval and recent release of the new anti-Covid vaccines, that looked like a distinct possibility. Alas, as so often over the past few months the situation is not improving and the Magic Bullet vaccination cure now seems to be either firing blanks or not firing at all. Consider this extract from the influential Financial Times.
The extension of lockdowns across Europe comes amid harsh criticism of the EU’s handling of vaccine procurement and distribution. While the US has administered more than 4m doses of Covid-19 vaccines and the UK has exceeded 1m, Germany has managed 238,000 and France has injected only about 350K. Mr Söder told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the EU had “ordered too few doses and relied on the wrong manufacturers”. He called for vaccination efforts to be “massively accelerated”. His comments came after Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech, the company that developed the only EU-authorised vaccine to date, told Der Spiegel magazine that “the process in Europe certainly wasn’t as fast and straightforward as in other countries”.
Bear in mind these are all First World countries, with enviable healthcare facilities and professionals., big budgets and borrowing clout to fund such projects and a plethora of quangos, think tanks and steering committees to pre-plan, pre-order and prepare national programmes in anticipation of the vaccine roll-outs. In the case of the EU, you might have been forgiven for thinking this was its core Raison D’Ȇtre, a chance to showcase its continental reach and collective organisational prowess. Instead it has shown the exact opposite - an overweight bureaucracy, unable to act decisively, timeously and effectively for the greater good. Never mind a magic bullet, this organisation doesn’t seem to own even a starter pistol.
There are currently 3 principal approved vaccines from 3 different companies
Pfizer-BioNTech - After conducting their final efficacy analysis, the two drug companies announced their vaccine is more than 94 per cent effective in over 65s. The findings were based on a study of 41,000 participants around the globe. The jab has been approved for use in the UK and delivery has started.
Oxford University-AstraZeneca - The vaccine was shown to be, on average, 70 per cent effective in an analysis of phase 3 trial data. While administering two full doses of the vaccine a couple of months apart yielded 62 per cent effectiveness, a half dose followed by a full one later showed to be 90 per cent effective. The jab has been approved for use in the UK and delivery has started.
Moderna - In a trial of more than 30,000 Americans, the vaccine showed to be nearly 95 per cent effective.
All 3 manufacturers are somewhat cagey on their production capacities, not wishing to spill industrial secrets to their competitors, although it is estimated that between them they should be able to turn out around 5 billion doses during 2021, meaning that around 2.5 billion people around the world could receive their double dose. Whereas the total global population now stands at just under 8 billion so that’s enough for less than a third of everyone around the world. Are you starting to see the Catch 22 here?
Even in the places where the programme is already up and running, there are logistical challenges and moral dilemmas. Slowly waking up to its current shortfall, the UK first decided to prioritise vulnerable and at-risk groups in a tiered release., beginning with the elderly and health-care workers. However it soon became clear that although it had placed a large pre-order, the programme was aspirational and impractical so in time-honoured tradition the government made a volte face - U-turn, if you prefer – and declared that for the time being, those vaccinated would only receive a single dose with the booster hopefully being administered in around 3 months time, rather than the manufacturers’ recommendation of 3 weeks. This led to a national debate amongst doctors and the general public, the former taking the line that half a loaf was better than no bread, the other that no-one was actually using their loaf and that the idea was half a sandwich short of a full picnic! The cynics have science on their side as one official document estimates that having only the single dose reduces efficacy to around 50%. Presumably, that’s why the manufacturers recommended the double dose in the first place.
Then there’s the question of whether the government has got its priorities and pecking order right. The UK is once again under total lockdown, this time with all schools closed, yet it is enshrined in law that all children nationwide should be educated and at the expense of the state so perhaps scholars and educators should also be at the head of the vaccine queue?
And whilst it is a mark of a caring society that the very old and those in care homes should take precedence over more robust younger people, it could be argued that it’s the latter who are the backbone of the economy and maybe the country needs them to roll up their metaphorical sleeves and return to the metaphorical coalface to begin the Herculean task of repairing the broken economy, so jab them first and let them set about it?
And meanwhile 3rd World countries languish at the very back of the long line.
The plain fact is that even by the end of this year, there still won’t be nearly enough to go round us all and it will all come down to money and influence, as usual. No magic bullet yet and what should have been a literal and figurative shot in the arm, is sadly looking more like a shot in the dark.