Johnson cannot afford to fail over vaccine programme

29th Jan 2021
Johnson cannot afford to fail over vaccine programme

(Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay)

The grossly incompetent description has followed Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s Government in virtually every aspect in responding to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. The challenges have been an almost impossible burden for most countries to contend with, however, it does not account for the UK disproportionately high mortality figures which are among the highest in the world.

In 2020, Johnson was three times depressingly late in ordering lockdowns and nationwide restrictions – in March, November and December. The full consequence may never be known but it was not helped by the performance of his Government being ill-prepared in controlling the spread of the virus starting with the debacle over Personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies. There were the apps that never worked and absolute farce over test and trace that was supposed to be one of many game changes despite billions of pounds being thrown at it.

The poor record in preventing deaths was matched by the failure to protect the economy. Having spent over £280 billion, more than 14 per cent of the country’s national income, on all aspects of fighting the pandemic, the Government has devoted £11.7 billion to the purchase, manufacture and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines and to support relevant research, according to the UK’s National Audit Office.

Research by the Financial Times has also found the country had spent more money fighting Covid-19 than almost all comparable countries but still languished towards the bottom of league tables on economic performance in 2020 and deaths caused by the virus.

The amount is set to soar even higher as the Government has become increasingly reliant upon being rescued from the abyss by inoculating the bulk of the population.

With such a prospect, there finally seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. As it would though the idiosyncratic style of Johnson’s Government has made it into a race with the accompanying jingoism associated with Brexit amid fears poor countries are being left behind. Nevertheless, the rolling out of the vaccine programme has had relative success in the UK with over four million receiving their first jabs by the time of going to press and a target of giving 15m first doses by February 15.

Three vaccines have so far been approved for emergency use by the UK’s regulator MHRA, with the Government ordering 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, developed and manufactured largely in Britain. It has also ordered 40 million doses of BioNTech/Pfizer’s different style mRNA vaccine and increased the number of doses of the similar Moderna vaccine to 17 million. To cover as many people as possible, the Government has delayed carrying out second jabs and even spoken of pick and mix though apparently not with the scientific support.

Despite the fact that Johnson has a notorious record of over-promising and being rather carefree about facts, the vaccine programme seems to have benefited from greater use of the centralised structure of the NHS instead of resorting zealously to the private sector and often not always in advantageous ways. It is not to say there have not been teething problems over supplies and recruiting appropriate staff. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is among those to have expressed concern over the distribution of the vaccines, calling for the capital to get a “fair share”. Regional figures have confirmed an uneven spread. Khan has also raised concerns about Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities being more hesitant about receiving the vaccine.

Although Johnson is hampered by his previous missteps, mistrust and poor competence ratings in opinion polls about his previous initiatives, vaccines appear to be a possible best way out from the crippling effects of Covid 19 when his other policies have failed and backfired. The Prime Minister is right though that the public need to get behind rolling out the vaccine programme even if it is disjointed.

There is no getting away from the fact that his enthusiasm for wanting to only deliver good news, but never come to fruition like in pledging the UK would turn the tide by June last year then again by Christmas before moving the date until this Easter. For all our sakes, we can only trust that the wagon does not come off the tracks again for what could be horrific consequences if he fails again.

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