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Saturday, 18 April 2020


It takes very little for our free and fearless press to break out the Vision and Boundless Hope and Optimism in this time of lockdown certainty, and exit strategy uncertainty. So it was when they got a whiff of good Coronavirus news: a vaccine had emerged, blinking, into the media spotlight. We were to be delivered of the hell of No Sport And No Pubs Open. The creativity of the tabloid press was cranked up to the max.
The i Paper, at least, tried to stick to reality as it told readers “Vaccine hope for Autumn … Target of 1 million doses of new Coronavirus jab by September, say Oxford scientists … human trials begin next week with lead researcher ’80% confident’ of success - ‘It has a very strong chance of working’ - with the most vulnerable people given priority access … Seven factories in the UK, Europe, India and China are preparing to produce hundreds of millions of doses for use around the world by end of 2020, awaiting fast-track approval”.

But it should be noted that words like “hope”, “target”, “80% confident”, and “awaiting … approval” have been included, rather than “racing certainty”. Sadly, this did not make the headline thundering out of today’s Daily Mail, which proclaims “VACCINE HOPE FOR BRITAIN …UK team’s breakthrough … Trials set for next week … A million jabs by September”. Only later on is it conceded that the million jabs “could” be ready.
Which means they also could not be ready. But over at the Daily Brexit, still calling itself the Express, all caution had been thrown to the wind: “VACCINE HOPE BY SEPTEMBER” reads the headline. Again, it is only in the small print that the word “could” appears.

Likewise with the Murdoch goons at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, which simply screams “Cure Boost … JAB FAB …Vaccine test in 1wk … ‘1m doses by Sept’”. Ah, those all-important quote marks once more. So what is the reality?
Ah well. At this point, we mosey over to The Lancet, and Richard Lane’s piece on Sarah Gilbert, “Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford in the UK, and a leading scientist at the university's Jenner Institute”, the contents of which appear to be the source for the outbreak of Ron Hopeful headlines. Once again, the small print is key.

Here are the key passages: “Gilbert is understandably cautious when asked to map out a timetable for the trial, but hopes to have vaccinated 500 volunteers by mid-May; this will be followed by an extension of the maximum age of trial volunteers from 55 to 70 years, later moving on to the over-70 age group”. “Understandably cautious” and “hopes”.
Also, Prof Gilbert stresses “The best-case scenario is that by the autumn of 2020, we have an efficacy result from phase 3 and the ability to manufacture large amounts of the vaccine, but these best-case timeframes are highly ambitious and subject to change”. Again, note “best-case timeframes”, and “highly ambitious”.

Which means the likelihood is of that million jabs coming on stream by the end of the year, rather than September. Even that may be optimistic: we don’t yet know that the vaccine will work at all. That may not matter to the tabloid press, but it will to most other people.

Our free and fearless press has jumped the gun once more. And shot itself in the foot.
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SimonB said...

What struck me about the report I read on the BBC news site is that the labs developing the vaccine are at this stage *because they had been planning and preparing for years*, in stark contrast to the government.

rob said...

We're back to "The Crucible" situation.

Lack of available information/data, a plethora of disinformation, and a general panic over the unknown is leading to a rash of irrational responses cf 5g masts.

A government with known tendencies to conceal information and actually lie about what is generally known doesn't really help.

Following the science doesn't mean blindly follow the science you want to believe in.