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Why has the Covid vaccine been relegated from ‘the best hope’ to ‘it helps’?

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ON Tuesday, Boris Johnson told Sky News: ‘The [Covid] numbers are down – of infections and hospitalisations and deaths. But it is very, very important for everybody to understand that the reduction in these numbers – in hospitalisations and in deaths and infections – has not been achieved by the vaccination programme. People don’t, I think, appreciate that it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing’ (my emphasis).

The Prime Minister added, ‘Of course, the vaccination programme has helped.’ His interview with the media was precise and rehearsed. There was none of the usual jokey bumbling.  What had been the ‘best route’ according to Johnson (I will point to an example below) until three days ago is no longer ‘the best’. This to me seems huge, but the MSM, including Sky News, has let it pass.

It seems highly probable that the PM is echoing, or rather having his strings pulled by, the World Health Organisation. On Monday afternoon director general Tedros Ghebreyesus tweeted: ‘Make no mistake, #COVID19 vaccines are a vital and powerful tool. But they are not the only tool. We say this day after day, week after week. And we will keep saying it.’

Followed by:

‘Physical distancing works. Masks work. #HandHygiene works. Ventilation works. Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine and compassionate care – they all work to stop #COVID19 infections and save lives.’

And yet as recently as last Saturday, April 10, Tedros was enthusing that Covid-19 vaccine ‘trials for children are under way’. On the same day he called for leaders of all nations to ‘accelerate vaccine equity’, and to ensure they all begin vaccinating by ‘day 100 of 2021’.

Boris Johnson’s reducing the Covid-19 vaccine to the status ‘it helps’ is a massive change in the vaccine-enthusiasm messaging that has dominated the PM’s broadcasts for the last few months.

Let us look how things have, in Orwellian fashion, changed overnight from vaccination is essential to get us out of Government-imposed lockdown, to lockdown is essential.  

Look at this tweet about the vaccine from the PM on March 10 for instance:

‘Extraordinary. Unexpected. Fantastic.’

A Beacon of Hope: The UK Vaccine Story.

Coming soon.

The tweet points to a slick one-minute video, featuring the PM and his scientists. It tells us about an upcoming production titled ‘A Beacon of Hope’, which is presumably ‘coming soon’ to a cinema near you (providing you can prove you have had the jab to be allowed in). In the clip, the PM and the scientists – most of whom are now British household names – tell us how the vaccines are the way out of the curse of the lockdowns: ‘We were on a mission, and the mission was to get vaccines for the UK’; ‘every vaccine we have given has given hope to somebody’; ‘Extraordinary. Unexpected. Fantastic’. And Sir Patrick Vallance: ‘Real joy, and our thinking “YES!” [the vaccine is] a way out of this.’

In the past month we have had many vaccine tweets from the PM. Here are a few of them.

17 March: ‘The latest milestone is an incredible achievement – representing 25 million reasons to be confident for the future as we cautiously reopen society.

 ‘Thank you to the brilliant NHS, scientists, armed forces, volunteers and all those who’ve helped our rollout.’

19 March: ‘I’ve just received my first Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine dose.

‘Thank you to all of the incredible scientists, NHS staff and volunteers who helped make this happen.

‘Getting the jab is the best thing we can do to get back to the lives we miss so much.

‘Let’s get the jab done.’

31 March: ‘The vaccine is our best route out of this pandemic and we must all do our part by taking the vaccine when it is offered to us. Thank you Sir @LennyHenry for speaking up on this important issue.’ (My emphasis)

9 April: ‘The science is clear: vaccines save lives. New @PHE_UK analysis shows COVID-19 vaccinations have prevented over 10,000 deaths. It’s important that you book your jab when the NHS contacts you.’

What has gone wrong? Why has the vaccine been relegated? Is it to lessen expectations in the knowledge that the medicines might be revoked, or at least one of them?

The vaccines are still formally at the ‘investigational’ stage (as I wrote in my last piece for TCW). They are in Phase 3 clinical trials, which, like Phase 2 trials, require a ‘double-blind’ control group, who are receiving a dummy medicine as placebo. The Probability of Success (POS) of a vaccine progressing from Phase 3 trials to approval and licensing is a lot lower than our political leaders would have us believe. Indeed, it is a statistical improbability that all the vaccines now being deployed will be approved at the end of Phase 3. What is the latest estimate of POS for each medicine? And how, with so much political capital and intellectual reputation invested in all this, will people be told that the medicine they have received is a dud? For the time being, I doubt if anyone will be revaccinated with another medicine in Phase 3 trials, because there is as yet, according to the FDA, ‘no information on the co-administration’ of vaccines (here is the fact sheet on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, for example).

Getting honest answers will not be easy. The government will doubtless be motivated to save face, to protect egos, to save political careers, and save the reputation of Sage and the NHS. But it is high time we were all told, honestly, what is going on, rather than be coerced and ‘nudged’ this way and that with a change in tone and messaging.

The Covid-19 vaccine Phase 3 trials are the most extraordinary Phase 3 trials in the history of medicine, involving every one of us and those closest to us. And of course the Covid-19 measures are having an enormous and devastating impact on society. We have a right therefore to an extraordinary and unprecdented level of openness about the data and the progress of the trials.

Reports of blood-clotting adverse reactions to the AstraZeneca vaccine have been much in the news in recent weeks. Energetic attempts to downplay the post-vaccine risks against what a new Oxford study states to be the higher risk of getting a blood clot from Covid itself, reported yesterday, are unlikely to quell all concerns. The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has already reported 19 people dying of blood clot adverse reactions out of a total of 79 cases. On March 31 it issued new advice saying this vaccine should not be given to people under the age of 30. On Wednesday Denmark announced it was ceasing the use of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine amid concerns about blood clots, the first European country to do so fully, though several others had previously suspended it. Australia’s health advisory body has advised that the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be given to those aged under 50.

This is the most reported of the reactions. Others – generally feeling unwell, feeling tired, chills or feeling feverish, headache, feeling sick (nausea), joint pain or muscle ache – people are now, via the mainstream media, being told to expect. Other more serious neurological reactions have yet to find their way into the mainstream media. 

If we don’t get this full and honest picture, we can but resort to speculation, attempt our own research and depend on anecdotal evidence – and frankly the anecdotal evidence does not look good, such as the case discussed by Kathy Gyngell in TCW yesterday.

Would it be possible to file a Freedom of Information request for ongoing data on the Phase 3 clinical trials? If not, at the very least we in the UK can pose the following question to our constituency MPs: Why has ‘the jab’ suddenly been relegated from our nation’s best hope, to ‘it helps’?

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Mark Pickles
Mark Pickles, 59, is a scientific technical writer who has worked for science corporations in Manchester and Belgium. He is presently employed by a Swiss-American corporation involved in food safety and inspection.

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