From John in Brighton: Good News – at last

13 November

Just the ticket! Like London buses there’s no good news for months then three items within a week (well two together for buses but you get the meaning)! Admittedly one is clearly the gold medal winner and arguably a champagne moment, prosecco for the second and a pint of bitter for the bronze medalist.

A vaccine is on the way and early evidence suggests a 90% efficacy. Sweet dreams immediately supplant the nine month nightmare. As well as the relief of restoring the Nation’s health and saving the burnout of the NHS the economy quickly reflects the optimism. Companies review the plans for laying off swathes of staff and share prices jump.with the exception of Zoom which has plummeted. The front pages are awash with the good news mostly presented in a staid and balanced way but I had to smile at the Sun’s twist:  BRITAIN had its pecker up last night after the firm behind Viagra revealed it has made a vaccine that stops 90 per cent of people from catching Covid. But clearly, as has been stressed, the potential magic bullet must be subjected to thorough safety scrutiny like any other drug or vaccine. The data hasn’t even been peer reviewed as yet and will need to go to the fine-tooth comb of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and other independent bodies like the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Notwithstanding attempts to concertina the process it will take time and as has been stressed safety is paramount and a degree of patience and caution is needed.  So from the deep twilight of our tunnel at 1 Lux we’re still in dark days – yesterday we became the first European nation to record 50,000 Covid deaths –  at 100 Lux but at least the 10,000 Lux of the bright dawn of defeating Covid is now a tangible reality. Despite its being seen as a game changer it was interesting that on “Question Time” last evening a few people expressed reservation on account of safety but they looked to me to be the under 50’s who needn’t worry ‘cos they’re well down the pecking order as The Sun might say. The sole septuagenarian expressed no such reservation and, to borrow a well-used colloquialism “me too” as long as no significant side effects are raised. 

And then the silver medal goes to the US election and the end of thug rule – it still amazes me that so many people can back a narcissistic bigot. How he must wish the Pfizer announcement had come a fortnight earlier. Call me cynical but I have to smile as I imagine, based on as little evidence as Donald has for election fraud,  the discussion at their New York headquarters and  opting to delay the good news until November 5th at the earliest. Thank you Pfizer on two accounts! The icing on the cake would be if we got the opportunity to do the same with our own  “reckless gambler with startling blond hair and a record of mendacity” (Andrew Rawnsley’s description in The Observer not mine) but I don’t see that imminently.

And in third place yesterday’s announcement of a bonus bank holiday albeit not until June 2022 as a token of the Queen’s 70 years on the throne. Adopting my Cassandra clone I calculate that is over seventy five weeks away and a week is a long time for a 94 year old in a pandemic  – even without the politics to plagiarise of sorts Harold Wilson.  But you look very sprightly Ma’am and I’m sure you’ll be fine so let the planning begin.

Never mind Friday 13th or Christmas being over a month away I awaken to an encore for the glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind. Dominic “eye test” Cummings is on his way. Apparently he jumped before being pushed but perhaps he’s better off out of it before the potentially disastrous denouement of a no deal Brexit and now without Plan B of cuddling up with Donald. Who knows? Perhaps with the loss of his close allies BJ will decide it’s all too much and writing a column for The Telegraph at £275 grand a year would give him time to sleep at night….and maybe even spawn another infant or two.

Sorry but gotta go now… book my place at No 2 in the vaccine queue. Looks like Jonathan Van Tam’s mother is a shoo-in for the first jab. But with several other vaccines at varied stages of development and a proportion of people having reservation then maybe the bun fight will be averted.

From John in Brighton, UK – The Race is ON

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.