I agree with many other contributors today that we have to use mass testing and effective self-isolation to contain the pandemic to make our local tiered approach work, so our message in Gloucester and Gloucestershire can be, “Stick with the rules now so that we can get back to almost normal on
Today, however, I want to focus not so much on successful containment but more on the eventual exit strategy, and let me start, therefore, by paying tribute to the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, for creating the vaccine taskforce led by Kate Bingham. First, I must make a declaration of no interest: I have never spoken to or met Kate Bingham, she has no idea who I am, and I have never been and am not an investor in any fund that she may have been responsible for. But I do know that the taskforce she leads has backed the BioNTech-Pfizer and AstraZeneca Oxford university vaccines and four others out of the 150 vaccines in development that it considered.
We now know that the Pfizer vaccine leads the scientific race and AstraZeneca may be close behind. Surely the fact that Kate Bingham secured for the UK 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in June and 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is immensely reassuring, and we should recognise that this quality of research, analysis and procurement could not possibly have been done from the civil service, which is why the Government and Sir Patrick, with all his previous experience of vaccine research and development and manufacturing, chose the best person for the job and did so without paying her a penny.
If we want third party evidence for what has been achieved, Professor John Bell of Oxford university said:
“It’s not a given that the UK…would have ended up where it is now without her.”
So it is disappointing that The Sunday Times, the Leader of the Opposition and others criticised the appointment of Kate Bingham and those of her comms team who helped the Government recruit 305,000 volunteers to give the evidence that AstraZeneca and others need to produce a well-tested vaccine. For we need both the vaccine to be approved and the anti-vaxxers to be routed for our exit strategy to work and avoid the damage done, for example, by Dr Wakefield’s anti-MMR lies 20 years ago.
Let me make three quick observations. First, the private sector, academia and the Government must work together for a successful exit strategy. Secondly, Sir Patrick said in evidence to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, in answer to a question that I gave him, that such a vaccine would normally take 15 years to create. Let us all pay tribute to those who have come so far so fast, and those who take a political stance against our great multinational pharmaceuticals need to reconsider their prejudices. Lastly, these vaccines have been procured by the UK for the peoples of all four parts of the UK and if—it is not guaranteed yet—it turns out that the work of the vaccine taskforce can provide all of us with protection in our greatest hour of need, wherever is our home, we are indeed better together with one NHS, one vaccine taskforce and one United Kingdom.