Vaccine rollout success trumps Boris Johnson’s scandals and failings – Bill Carmichael

IT is one of those strange and bitter ironies that politics sometimes throws up that if Number 10 wanted to hold a massive party this December – rather than last – most of the country would cheer them on to the rafters.

Boris Johnson at this week's Downing Street press conference.
Boris Johnson at this week's Downing Street press conference.

Break out the bunting, fire off the party poppers and crack open that well-chilled bottle of bubbly, because there has rarely been a better time for a joyous celebration that the whole nation can join in.

Because this week marks the first anniversary of one of the most remarkable scientific, political and administrative achievements seen across the entire world in modern times.

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Margaret Keenan and Nurse May Parsons at University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire, a year after Margaret was the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine.

I am, of course, referring to the magnificent roll-out of the vaccine to combat Covid-19, which has probably saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented catastrophic damage to the economy.

Yet, during this momentous anniversary, all anyone seems to be talking about is a party, in contravention of the rules then in place, that may, or may not, have taken place in Downing Street a year ago.

Downing Street insists that no party took place, while others insist it did. It reminds me of the theory in quantum physics known as ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’, which posits that a cat placed in a box can be both alive and dead at the same time.

The Government appears to have created the equivalent of Schrodinger’s Party, which took place, and yet did not take place, simultaneously.

File photo dated 08/12/20 of Margaret Keenan, 90, becoming the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, administered by nurse May Parsons, at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in the UK's history.

Who knows precisely what happened, and who to believe? One thing is for sure, the Number 10 press team has totally lost control of the narrative – a terrible sin in media management.

That illustrates the sheer incompetence of government spin doctors, shown in leaked TV footage this week, plotting to lie to the public and giggling about it like teenagers after a glass of cider.

I don’t blame Labour for making the most of this. The notion that there is one rule for “them”, and another for “us”, is toxic and corrosive to public trust.

Little wonder that the new intake of ‘Red Wall’ Conservative MPs in the North and Midlands are reported to be tearing out their hair in despair at the antics of Number 10 staff who appear to treat politics as a jolly jape, rather than a serious attempt to improve people’s lives.

Time will tell if this episode damages the electoral chances of the Conservatives, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the most important and significant news story of the week, so let us turn to the real world.

On December 8, 2020, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer-BioNTec vaccine outside of clinical trials, at University Hospital in Coventry.

Considering the Covid-19 virus had only started circulating in the UK sometime in the early months of that year, this was astonishingly quick.

Scientists had developed the vaccine rapidly, the testing and regulatory regime was accelerated, the Government secured millions of doses from the manufacturers, and a system was put in place, often staffed by volunteers, to put the jabs into people’s arms.

The result is one of the most heartening success stories in modern times. Almost 120 million doses have been delivered, including almost 21 million boosters and third doses. The UK has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccine uptake rates in the world, with four in five people aged over 65 already receiving their booster jab.

We will probably never know how many lives have been saved as a result, or how much damage was prevented to jobs and businesses, but we do know it is massive. With the new Omicron variant now increasing in circulation, and new restrictions announced by the Prime Minister earlier this week, we may not be entirely out of the woods just yet.

But so far at least, the link between infection and hospitalisation and death appears to have been largely broken.

A deadly unknown disease, never encountered before, that threatened our country with terrible consequences, has largely been neutralised in less than two years.

That is quite simply a stupendous achievement and everyone from the scientists, manufacturers, medical staff, volunteers, and yes, the politicians and administrators, deserve a massive thank you from us all. And if they want to break out a bottle or two in celebration, I can only say: “Cheers!”

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