The Race is On
It seems a bit of a contradiction to describe a potential lifesaver as a “silver bullet” but all hope of eventual total freedom from corona lock-down is vested in a vaccine. One word of caution – just as we can’t guarantee that the natural infection confers immunity and if so for how long so we should remain optimistic for the vaccine but be aware of potential limitations.
The pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca is collaborating to produce the “Oxford vaccine” if that is demonstrated to be effective – it is hoped some initial data on the trial may be available by mid June. But even if production ensues soon after that it will amount to a mere tens of millions of doses by the end of the year.
The race is on says the popular demotic as an effective vaccine is sought in all corners of the World. But having lost this year’s Grand National perhaps this could be a metaphorical equivalent. Having cleared with ease the minor fences to fast track the process we now confront the giant sixth fence Bechers Brook in trying to develop a vaccine. How we’d cheer if we could hear Peter O’Sullevan’s commentary “…and the Jenner Institute is clear and leading the field as they head towards the seventh…”. But unfortunately that may not be the toughest of the hurdles. The ninth is Valentines and that’s finding the most effective collaboration in terms of production and finance between research and industry although that should be facilitated by the “not for profit” agreements. Over that one but the fifteenth is arguably the toughest of the lot – the dreaded Chair. That’s the moral and ethical debate about who gets the vaccine first. For worldwide coverage billions of doses are needed. Two other pharmaceutical leviathans GSK and Sanofi are collaborating but the chief medical officer of the former estimates they could only produce enough for about 20% of the World population within a year. So how best to maximise production and distribute it fairly and irrespective of any ability to pay?
In March, it was reported that President Trump had approached a German company, albeit with a US citizen as its CEO, seeking sole access for the US when they develop a vaccine – and offering significant financial incentives. Matt Hancock is under pressure to guarantee Britons having priority access to any UK developed vaccine. On the other hand last week Dominic Raab joined Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Melinda Gates and others to back the WHO proposal for equitable access worldwide. Welcome back BJ and good luck with sorting that one. His mate Donald, along with China, Russia and India did not offer their backing incidentally.
Everyone will have a view. Mine is that if UK expertise and investment in research has borne fruit then the British should get first….and second, third and fourth bites of the cherry. That may prima facie be against the principles of social justice and fairness that I endorse but here’s my rationale. Firstly, yes it is partially and perhaps selfishly that we must all yearn the day when our lifestyles return to a semblance of normality and our economy can be kick-started. The finishing post can’t come too soon. But secondly I implicitly trust UK research notably over the efficacy of the vaccine and also production standards in the UK are second to none whereas I might feel less confident if the provenance was overseas. And thirdly it mitigates against a logistical nightmare. If we were rationed a proportion of available vaccine there would be endless debates as to who would be prioritized, which services do we need to bring out of hibernation first and how long will everyone else have to wait. The old? Underlying health issues? NHS front-line or the oft ignored care homes? Or the dark horses with two risk factors like the obese males, could they be the Foinavons? And would it be morally wrong to allow those with means to buy the vaccine privately? Far better surely to complete immunization of our population and then distribute appropriately and generously to other nations.
And finally, I ponder whether we may confront another potential price for BJ’s other baby – Brexit? We have heard much about Exercise Cygnus in October 2016 which looked at plans in the event of a pandemic albeit flu. It never got published nor acted upon and my suspicion is that all efforts were channeled into Brexit following the referendum four months earlier. We missed out on securing PPE earlier this year in a joint procurement with the EU purportedly because we never got the e-mails which the EU has denied. Again, perhaps cynically, I wonder if this was not an ideological decision. Could we be on the threshold of a third Brexit payback? With BJ now in thrall to Donald he may well see vaccine sharing as a golden opportunity to consolidate The Special Relationship. Presumably we’d get a shed-load of disinfectant as quid pro quo.