IT may be that Pfizer has given the government an early Christmas present with a vaccine that is efficacious in 90 per cent of cases. It still has to get through authorisation and the rest, but at least it gives BoZo a way out of the impasse that Sage has put him in through its brazen public endorsement of duff graphs. The public message from Downing Street is steady as she goes and BoZo is uncharacteristically cautious, saying ‘these are very, very early days’.
According to the government Covid Dashboard (about as close as any of us can get to reality) it seems that cases have plateaued at about the level they were on October 23, as have admissions. No doubt ICU bed occupancy and deaths will follow the same trajectory, continuing to raise questions about the need for the current lockdown.
Meanwhile it seems that Hancock’s team are grappling with the challenge of distributing the vaccines (should they arrive). On that we have some helpful tweeting from someone called Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, who was apparently an adviser to Matt Hancock until October (he’s now head of UK Music, an industry-backed lobbying group).
He claims that ‘rolling out the vaccine will require the biggest logistical effort since WW2’. I think this explains rather a lot about the current state of the Department of Health.
Making the vaccine available requires getting some 65million phials of vaccine to some 7,000 GP surgeries. Each surgery has to inject all its patients, say 10,000 each. Compare that with the logistics of D-Day (to pick one small part of the Second World War). That involved delivering 156,000 troops on to a beach on the other side of the English Channel, in secrecy. The day alone involved 7,000 ships (crewed by another 195,000 people) and 12,000 aircraft (plus their aircrew and maintenance teams). All had to operate with precision and, of course, in an environment where they might well get shot at. Add in the ammunition, weapons, equipment and harbours (yes, they built a harbour complex on the fly).
A better comparator would be the Royal Mail, which delivers an average of 40million packages a day.
It’s pretty clear that Jamie is either innumerate or wildly exaggerating. Neither of these is a desirable trait in someone advising a minister who has to wrestle with complex numeric data under significant time pressure. How can that help ask the right questions of scientists, economists and the rest of the advisory paraphernalia?
One of the problems of our current political process is that ministers seem starved of the expert support that they need properly to interrogate civil servants and other advisers. There is a classic example panning out with the Select Committee on Defence seeking to establish what has gone wrong with the Army’s armoured vehicle programme (about which much more in another article). None of those involved in the hearing had ever commanded a tank, and committee chairman Tobias Ellwood had neither the knowledge nor the briefing to get any sensible answers.
These special advisers are paid by the government (that’s you and me). But their appointment is far from open (Oxford PPE helps) and their performance unscrutinised, certainly by their paymasters. We need to move on from this chumocracy.