At time of writing (Jan 2021) there are several vaccines being deployed across the globe, quite a few more likely to be approved shortly.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is being manufactured in Oxford, the Novavax vaccine likely to begin manufacture in Teesside as soon as it is approved, expected to be very soon.
We have Pfizer vaccine already approved and coming in from Belgium, Moderna approved and being made in the US, delivery expected in the Spring,
– the Johnson and Johnson “single shot” vaccine is likely be approved by UK regulators in the near future, again will be manufactured in the US.
Vaccines employ different techniques to generate an immune system response, they have different efficacies, for different age groups, and with respect to the different variants of the Covid-19 virus which are now circulating.
It’s fair to say “it’s a complicated situation”.
This article tells you all you could wish to know about “where we are” with regard to vaccines in the UK :
There are two terms which sound similar but mean very different things:
– “Vaccine Efficacy” is the ability of a vaccine to prevent a disease completely
– “Vaccine Effectiveness” is the proportion of the disease burden that the vaccine prevents.
A particular Covid-19 vaccine might have an efficacy of 60%, but also be effective in preventing the disease progressing to become serious in the other 40% of people who receive it.
In this scenario it can be said to be 100% effective at preventing serious disease.
60% won’t get it at all, 40% only mildly at worst.
Almost all the Covid-19 vaccines developers/manufacturers are claiming that their vaccines prevent almost everyone who takes them from becoming seriously ill, although a period of time will need to elapse after vaccination.
(Currently is believed that this remains true for the “mutated variants”, the South African one, and the Kent variant, which is believed to have mutated to become more like the South African strain… and potentially more vaccine resistant.)
Let’s assume this is true. Let’s very much hope that it is.
Lifting restrictions in the UK
The time to get back to normal is drawing near.
“Normal normal”. Not “new normal”.
After a year of dealing with Covid-19, we have a very good idea of the groups of people that typically may get seriously ill and die from it.
Largely older people, and those with pre-existing underlying health conditions.
Once people in these groups have been protected, via vaccination, if not from getting the virus, at least from becoming seriously ill from it,
– we should release all restrictions and allow the vast majority of people to return to living life as we used to in 2019.
As a result of the enormous levels of fear that have been deliberately built up in the population, a staged move back to full normality may be required. We will need a plan for this, let’s call it “Plan2021”
Preparations for this should be made in advance, commencing a month prior to implementing should be sufficient.
(We could use a similar approach to this should we get hit by a variant which existing vaccines provide little or no protection against, instead of simply “locking everyone up”, which has already cost a huge amount in terms of damage to our economy, children’s education, and our mental and physical health).
At the point where almost everyone in the most vulnerable groups has been vaccinated/protected from becoming seriously ill from Covid-19,
– the damage being done to our physical and mental health as a nation, through the stripping of our civil liberties, the damage to our economy, and children’s education,
– will far outweigh any benefits of continuing with strict lockdown restrictions.
There can be very little doubt of this.
Remember at this time we will have two main groups of people,
. those who have been vaccinated, and therefore have very little, if any risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19, and
. those who have not been vaccinated, but also have very little if any risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19, by dint of the fact they are young, and/or have no underlying health issues.
(There will be a, hopefully small, third group, who refuse vaccination, or are unable to get vaccinated for health reasons).
There is an argument being put forward by scientists that we will have to maintain Social Distancing, wear masks etc, for the remainder of 2021,
– because people who have been vaccinated might still be able to pass the virus on to someone else.
This is clearly nonsense.
So what if people who have been vaccinated can still pass the virus on to others?
So what if they do actually pass the virus on?
They will only be passing it on to either:
. someone who has been vaccinated, and is at a very low risk of developing a serious illness, or,
. someone who has not been vaccinated, but is at a very low risk of developing serious illness, as they are younger/have no underlying health issues.
So, in terms of lifting lockdown restrictions, whether people who have been vaccinated can still pass the virus on, really doesn’t matter that much.
(Obviously the less Covid-19 virus present in communities the better, it may reduce the opportunity for it to mutate into a strain which vaccines can not protect against at some point in the future.
But at the point where there is hardly anyone who might be susceptible to contracting Covid-19 and becoming seriously ill/dying, whether people can pass it to each other or not is of relatively minor importance.
Early signs are that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may significantly reduce transmission anyway:
Yes, a small number of people will still be at some risk, but these will mostly be those who have elected not to get vaccinated.
We have never placed severe restrictions on the way the vast majority live their lives, in order to protect a small percentage of the population from getting ill/dying,
– and we should not start now.
The (hopefully) tiny group of people who have refused vaccination, or who are unable to get vaccinated for health reasons, will have to take responsibility for protecting themselves.
I do not believe that the NHS should refuse treatment to them,
– we do not discriminate against people who overeat and become obese, or cause themselves to become ill through smoking and/or alcohol,
– there is no justification for refusing treatment to those who do not get vaccinated, not least because there are a variety of possible reasons why they have not done so, many of which are perfectly valid and health related.
I am wholeheartedly against any attempts to make vaccination compulsory, including “by stealth”.
“By stealth” I mean implementing policies like :
“if you don’t get vaccinated you won’t be allowed into a pub, restaurant, cinema etc, either at all, or without a facemask”.
No employers should be allowed to stipulate that you must show proof of vaccination in order to be able to apply for them.
Just as there are health conditions which preclude some people from wearing facemasks, there are legitimate health reasons why some people will not be able to get vaccinated.
We rightly have Disability/Equality laws in the UK which protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against. Preventing people in these groups from being employed in certain jobs is pure discrimination.
The wide availability of vaccines will allow people to protect themselves.
Once all the most vulnerable have been offered them, there will no longer be any argument that we must wear facemasks, Social Distance, forgo most of the things that we enjoy in life the most… “to protect others”.
Everyone will be able to protect themselves, primarily by getting vaccinated, or if they unable or unwilling to do so, then by other means…
– they will have to change their own behaviour, not expect the rest of society to do so.
This may sound harsh to some, but I don’t believe it’s reasonable, or fair, to demand 98% of people should have their lives severely restricted/impacted indefinitely, in order to protect the other 2%.
We should instead provide assistance to enable the 2% protect themselves, should they wish to do so.
“We’re (not) following the science”
The UK government has decided to increase the gap between first and second doses of vaccines being administered, from three weeks to twelve weeks, in order to enable much faster distribution of “first doses”.
It’s believed the majority of immunity is acquired two to three weeks after the first dose has been administered.
The second dose then increases the efficacy and effectiveness, and also possibly the period of time that efficacy and effectiveness in preventing serious illness will last.
As hospitals struggle to cope with the number of patients at the end of January 2021, there was some logic in trying to give at least some protection to as many people as possible, as fast as possible.
However vaccine developers did not trial leaving a twelve week gap between doses, consequently they don’t recommend it, and the World Health Organisation also is advising against this approach.
It’s essentially the UK govt is “taking a massive punt”, in gambling terms. And they are gambling with people’s lives. There is no other way of putting it.
It may be that this “punt” will save a lot of lives, by giving limited protection to a lot more people a lot faster than simply following the “three week gap”, the manufacturer’s recommended policy, would have done…
– or it may be that it will cost many lives, through people not being as well protected as they would have been, and for a shorter period.
Very likely it will be many months before we have a good idea about this, quite possibly not even then, very likely it will be disputed forever.
(The only way it could be ever be proven beyond doubt, is by “rewinding time”, and then administering the same vaccines to the same people, but with a three week gap instead of twelve,
– and comparing the results in terms of illness and fatalities.
Rewinding time is tricky.
Comparisons with other countries will be made, but these are always highly contested.
There will never be a country which is identical to the UK, in terms of population, population density, and which has a similar profile in terms of the extent of the spread of the virus within it).
The only statement which it will be impossible to argue against, is, when it comes to vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in the UK population,
– we most definitely “did not following the science”.
We saw the first few “skirmishes” in these towards the end of January.
There is not too much doubt they will continue throughout 2021 and beyond.
Fair to say the EU did not cover itself in glory in the initial exchanges.
Its leaders showed, in the view of most Brexiteers at least, their “true colours”,
– “lashing out” wildly at the UK, acting in a spiteful, petty and vindictive manner.
The EU’s actions resembled those of a playground bully, not a wonderful, peace loving, compassionate organisation, which supposedly exists for everyone’s benefit.
The following article provides a good summary of what happened in the final week of January 2021:
In what can only be called “a fit of spite”, (wrongly) believing that AstraZeneca had been sending vaccine to the UK which should have been delivered to the EU
(its own inspectors subsequently confirmed it was not the case)
– the U triggered “Article 16”, and announced its intention to institute a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and Eire. It would then use this new hard border, with physical checks being performed on goods crossing it,
– to try to prevent any vaccines manufactured in the EU from reaching the UK,
– even those which had been already legally and perfectly legitimately ordered, “bought and paid for”.
The same EU leaders initiated this who had spent the previous five years arguing that a hard border between Northern Ireland and Eire would be completely unacceptable to everyone because it would be a breach of the Good Friday Agreement, and quite possibly lead to war.
They also didn’t bother to warn either the UK or Irish government about what they were about to do.
Fortunately, with just about every Western leader instantly condemning their action, they very rapidly rescinded it,
– and tried to make out that it was “a slip of the tongue”, someone somewhere had simply “misspoken”.
Clearly utter nonsense. Something as serious as this doesn’t get done as a result of a few words being spoken by mistake.
Severe damage was done to the EU’s reputation.
Not that it was that great to start with….