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In March 2020, Boris Johnson was at Desk No.10, predicting that within 12 weeks he could send out coronavirus packaging. The Prime Minister positively exuded confidence by declaring: I am often accused of being unnecessarily optimistic about things. But, I honestly think that … we’re going to turn the tide and we’re going to be okay with it.
The tide did drop later that summer, but returned in the fall and turned into a full-blown tsunami in the winter, with tens of thousands of deaths. As ministers brace for another winter spike in Covid cases, PM boosting an upbeat and dynamic sales pitch for everything it does is again likely to be a key factor in governments’ response.
Keen to continue the success of the vaccination program, it looks like Johnson will not only continue with Covid passports for nightclubs, but also move forward with the other two big calls of the fall: to vaccinate the under 16 years old and provide third doses for the over-50s. A PM booster ordering jab boosters wouldn’t be a surprise.
Yet opposition to both childhood immunizations and booster shots is growing. Basically, this opposition comes from the very people the Prime Minister has hailed as heroes in the past. Oxford University professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who developed the Oxford / AstraZeneca jab, told the Daily Telegraph that only the elderly and very vulnerable need a third dose.
Dame Sarah stressed that it is best to send any unused capacity to the poorest countries where millions of people have not received a first dose, let alone a third.
And his college colleague Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chairman of JCVI, was even more scathing. He said we have a moral duty to save lives and came to a surprising fact: 800,000 lives have been lost since the G7 agreed to send more vaccines to those in need. He also said there was a risk to trade, to economies if the virus continued to wreak havoc around the world.
Most important of all was science. Pollard stuck firmly to the JCVI line that the benefits of immunizing children are marginal and that third injections were also unnecessary for most people in the UK except for immunocompromised citizens and citizens. the oldest and most vulnerable.
But ministers and the prime minister appear determined to take a charitable approach that begins at home, despite the current number of vaccines set aside for export. Of the 100 million jabs the UK has pledged overseas by 2022, only nine million have been delivered so far.
Given the short-sighted damage done to the UK’s international soft power by cutting overseas aid (Afghanistan’s support was cut in half only to be doubled again this year amid the withdrawal fiasco) Johnson has a chance to show real-world leadership when he meets Joe Biden and other leaders at the United Nations General Assembly later this month.
If he surprised everyone and prioritized vaccine supplies for the poorest countries over medically unnecessary injections for the British, he could really resurrect his global British slogan for a post-Brexit UK. It would be the kind of saving help we could all be proud of.
This article originally appeared on The HuffPost UK and has been updated.
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