Britain best – because it is prepared to take the greatest risk?

Britain under the Covid cloud

04/12/2020 Update. Britain was able to speed the regulatory process because it has applied ‘emergency use authorisation’, which promises the vaccine suppliers immunity from legal liability in civil cases. To my understanding, this means individuals will be unable to sue the vaccine makers should anything go wrong. In effect, the NHS is taking over the liability for the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine from the suppliers. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) by contrast is taking a more standardised approach; EU-wide authorisation for the first two vaccines released from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. This method offers the same standards of safety, and liability, as all EU authorised medicines. More details reported here: https://euobserver.com/coronavirus/150278 

03/12/2020. With Covid-19 causing the kind of national depression normally found only in times of war, we are all in desperate need of some good news. But the UK shouldn’t seize too quickly on the first ray of sunshine as evidence of the coming Spring.

So UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson thinks that Britain was the first to approve the new anti-Covid vaccination because we’ve got the best people in this country! That’s as well as the best medical regulator, one that is much better than other countries, according to an interview on LBC Radio.

Meanwhile his colleague, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, believes that approval was gained so fast because of Brexit and the UK’s freedom from European bureaucracy. He may well have a point, but it is hardly surprising that a European medicines agency with responsibility for advising 27 countries is going to be more cautious than one with responsibility for one.

I might secretly agree with Mr Williamson about this country, but I think it’s very poor to trumpet it in such a way. Because every citizen with a pride in his own country thinks that it is the best place to be. Such claims mean nothing more than an empty pandering to national prejudice.

At a time when simply allowing the shops to open near to normal offers the kind of mental lift from the Covid-19 cloud normally to be found only in times of war, we are all in desperate need of some good news to change the national gloom.

Some of us, however, remain rather wary of the burst of sunshine promised at the end of the Covid tunnel. The attempts of both the government and the UK medical establishment to pump out only positive news and tamp down any critical questioning smack of desperation rather than sense.

This is a high-risk strategy, which means any failure will be as damning as success acclaimed. If the vaccine fails to perform as expected, or turns out to have previously undiscovered side-effects, then Mr and Mrs UK Public will have one more reason to disbelieve government propaganda, not to mention a stick with which to beat UK science incorporated. The NHS is in the front line here in more ways than one.

I for one am more likely to listen to the EU’s medical regulator precisely because it is more cautious, and also cannot be browbeaten by any one government into rushing towards approval. When it comes to new medicines, caution should still be the watchword, I believe. The test of time is not one that can be skipped.

I do hope that at least one of the new vaccines starting to appear will be successful. Success is desperately needed, not only to prove mankind’s ability to triumph over the animal handicaps of the natural world, but also for the sakes of our mental health.

But I don’t think we should be blowing the trumpets too soon. Doing so is a high-risk strategy. We are all desperate for good news, but there could still be problems ahead. Better to wait a bit longer, I say.

© Philip Hunt, 2020.

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