In the Daily Mail Kate Bingham tells of her heroic efforts as Chair of the Vaccine Taskforce to save Britons from the ravages of Covid-19. It includes extracts from her book, The Long Shot (written with Tim Hames) in which she describes her role in ensuring that Britain led the world in rolling out the safe and effective vaccines. Here TCW’s writer tries to recall some of the highlights from the article for readers who were fortunate enough to miss it.
IT WAS May 2020. I remember the day well. We were in lockdown. It was raining. My day had been spent on Zoom from our des res in the Welsh Marches making vital investment decisions. I had begun to wind down with a nice Chablis. My phone pinged. It was Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary. He sounded frenetic.
‘Kate, we need you. The virus is out of control. I’m begging you. We are in a national pandemic and we need you to step up. Only you can save us. Please, please, become our Vaccine Tsar.’
I paused for a moment. My clients at the venture capitalist S V Health relied on me. But Matt was insistent and Boris was shouting ‘get her’ in the background. Their plea came as no surprise. It had been clear to me for some time that a devastating pandemic was unavoidable. Covid was everywhere. Deaths were mounting. Hospitals were overwhelmed. Nurses were too exhausted to dance. The Civil Service was moribund. I was clearly the only person who could save the people of our great nation from certain death. Destiny was calling. After taking a long slurp of my wine I told the distraught and desperate Matt that I would accept.
When people suggested that I got the job through ‘chumocracy’, because my husband Jesse Norman was a Treasury Minister and my business contact with Bill Gates might have helped, I reminded them that some of my best friends are barristers.
Within hours of my appointment I made my first strategic decision. Public Relations was obviously the key to success. In no time I persuaded the Treasury to allocate the necessary dosh.
My mind was now in overdrive. What else would we need? The answer instinctively came to me. It was vaccines, yes vaccines, and billions of them! With June, my college pal from Oxford days, running the MHRA quango thingy, no problem with the approvals.
I spent the next few days frantically building my crack team and knocking heads together to get things done.
As history shows, things did get done. I banished the box tickers. I persecuted the pen-pushers. There was a national emergency. Money was no object. In no time AstraZeneca’s wonderful jabs were flying off the production line straight into people’s arms. There followed safe and effective Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. I had turned disaster into triumph! We were the envy of the world. I became ‘Kate the Great, the woman who saved Britain from disaster’.
Of course, there was never any need to vaccinate the whole population. Just those who needed them. I am not sure why it was offered to everyone. But better safe than never. And Bill G was very persuasive about the size of the pre-order needed to remove any financial risk for Moderna, Pfizer and co. But what we cannot do now is rest on our laurels. I know from my work that there are millions of nasty viruses out there, busily replicating and sneakily mutating.
Disease X is on its way, not to mention Diseases Y and Z, A1, B1, etc. Each of them could cause millions if not trillions of deaths. Only by producing more vaccines more quickly can the inevitable horror be mitigated.
My leadership of the Vaccine Taskforce led directly to the miraculous development of fantastic vaccines in less than a year. Yet even that speed would be insufficient for Disease X. We need nothing less than warp, or double warp speed, engineering, development and manufacturing. We need to be science superstars, vaccine Valkyries. Every second will count.
We must work to build a pick ’n’ mix availability. The vaccines must be on hand much like the sweets counter I remember at Woolies. (Nuttall’s Mintoes were my favourites.) When the next deadly virus crops up we must have the opportunity to choose whatever mixture we think might be suitable to plunge into the arm. And it’s not just about vaccines. We showed the way for all drugs – for cancer drugs, mental-health drugs, weight-loss drugs – you name it. We can leave health to tech. No need for the NHS after all.
This is the way forward – spending vast amounts, agreeing to the World Health Organization’s pandemic treaty and working in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum, we will have health on the shelf and ready to go. To think I might have said No.