The Lowdown Hub

Stop wasting billions on testing. Only the vaccine can save us now Expedite the Oxford jab to end.

If there is any hope, it lies in the vaccine. Testing, tracing, masks, distancing, lockdowns, and tiers have all failed to halt the march of the virus. It is clear now that, without a vaccine, the Government would never allow any return to normality. We would be yo-yo-ing in and out of controls, rules, regulations, and restrictions until the kingdom comes.

The skeptics among us have hopefully suggested that the low Covid fatality rate and the high average age of victims (at 82.4 years, greater than median life expectancy) do not necessitate such draconian action. But we have been patronized and ignored.

Thanks for pointing it out and for suggesting that we should all be allowed to get on with our lives while taking some elementary precautions, say ministers and Sage boffins, but that’s not what we are going to do. If we did, people would die and we would get the blame. If that means others will die of something else, such as undiagnosed cancer or a postponed operation, that’s sad but unavoidable. At least they will not die of Covid – except 65,000 already have. And if it means trashing the economy, with 800,000 jobs lost since March, well so be it.

The Government’s stated policy has been clear for some time now: rigid controls will continue to be imposed on social interactions in order to suppress the virus until a vaccine comes along. That was always one heck of a gamble since it normally takes 10 years to develop a vaccine and often it never happens at all.

Watching Monday night’s excellent BBC Panorama documentary on the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca version of the jab was to be reminded of how to touch and go this whole exercise has been. At one point, a scientist observes that more often than not, the vaccines don’t work. They have been searching for years to no avail for efficacious jabs for HIV and malaria, both of which kill far more people around the globe than coronavirus, many of them children.

Indeed, it should have been a cause for celebration to discover that children and young people are almost entirely resistant to the worst ravages of Covid and that only those at the end of long lives are particularly vulnerable.

For a pandemic, a survival rate of 99.5 percent of the population is pretty good, to say the least, unless you are one of the 0.5 percent, of course. The case fatality rate is higher than for seasonal flu but not much worse than during bad influenza years for which drastic shutdowns of society were never contemplated.

Yet here we are after nine months of measures of varying degrees of severity, almost back to square one with half the population under the most severe restrictions. True, schools remain open, even though most of the infections are being transmitted by largely asymptomatic children. With just a few days of the term left, why not let them have an early holiday rather than threaten them with legal action?

Shops are also allowed to remain open, which seems perverse when they are more likely to be crowded with Yuletide bargain hunters than a restaurant or a pub that has spent a great deal of money making themselves “Covid secure”. One Sage scientist said he had been convinced London needed to be in Tier 3 when he saw the crowds at the Westfield complex in Stratford. Yet it can stay open while the National Gallery must close. The hospitality sector and the arts have been sacrificed on the altar of “something must be done and this is something”.

We are still promised latitude to meet up with our families over the festive period, though only with dark warnings ringing in our ears – don’t hug, keep the windows open, wash your presents, eat outdoors if you can – in December! If they could, ministers would now stop these gatherings too, but Boris Johnson does not want to be the first leader since Cromwell to abolish Christmas. However, with pressure mounting for a change of mind he might yet find himself alongside Old Noll as the greatest killjoy in history.

This has all been necessitated, we are told, by the danger that hospitals are filling up again, even though the NHS has had months to prepare for a predicted surge of the virus during the winter. Moreover, the whole point of lockdowns and tiers was to allow greater freedom at Christmas, and if proof were required that none of the measures have worked, here it is.

So thank goodness for the scientists who have developed a vaccine in record time, otherwise, we would have been sunk. The Panorama documentary showed what a remarkable achievement this has been, along with the Pfizer and Moderna breakthroughs. The Oxford/AstraZeneca version would be the real game-changer since it is cheaper and easier to distribute; and although its efficacy in older people is still being assessed, none in the trials became severely ill from Covid.

ONS data this week showed that mortality will fall by more than 80 percent once all over-70s are vaccinated – that’s about 10 million people. If the Oxford vaccine is so far shown to be most effective among under-55s, then it can be given to those in front-line jobs like nurses, doctors, and teachers, while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are administered to the elderly.

This is where our entire national effort needs to be directed, notwithstanding the alarmism surrounding the sudden emergence of a variant of the virus. These are always to be expected and happen every year with flu.

Instead of throwing good money after bad on random mass testing, which will cost billions and get us nowhere, the massive “moonshot” commitment of funds and manpower should be diverted to the vaccine. Moreover, once those most at risk have been given the jab, then everyone else must be allowed to get on with their lives.

The Government is talking about next spring or early summer for a return to something approaching normality, but it needs to be quicker than that. If the Oxford team can go from a standing start to the creation of an effective vaccine within the space of 10 months, the same Herculean effort needs to be applied to its delivery.