Boris Johnson already has a lifeline to seize to ride the wave of bad news in the UK: the UK vaccination program has entered this second (18) phase in its second phase. Nearly 5 million over 70 years and 1 million patients will be invited to participate in the “race against death”, the nickname given to the program by its leader, Minister Nadhim Zahawi.
At 140 vaccine injections per minute, the country has already given 3.9 million people the first dose (data as of Friday 16) and around 400,000 have also received the second. It is close to the 54 million adults who should be vaccinated, but it is far ahead of its neighbors – in Italy, the second European with the most vaccines applied, the number does not reach a third, both in total and weighted by the number of inhabitants.
To help, this week the government has seen the number of new cases drop. Government accounts show a drop of more than 22% in the week ending the 17th. Rates fell in all parts of England, according to PA Media.
It is too early to celebrate. Figures show transmission is not fully expired – the latest contagion rate (Rt 1.2 to 1.3) still indicated expansion, keeping a warning sign for hospitals, which fear a collapse.
According to the English public health system (NHS), every 30 seconds a new patient is admitted with Covid-19 in the country. From Friday to Saturday, for example, 4,179 beds received new patients, an increase of 13% on weekdays.
But at least this time, the Boris Johnson administration has some success to show. The boom in its immunization program has been the result of at least seven betting certain facts in recent months. The first was to invest in vaccine research and development, which enabled the University of Oxford and the AstraZeneca laboratory to become one of the pioneering consortia in launching a proven viable product.
This strategy has also made it possible to streamline clinical trials and ensure access to ampoules. Manufacturing in its own territory makes it easier to distribute vaccines and avoids problems like the one Brazil faced last week when it needed to postpone a flight that would seek doses in India. The British government also plans to expand production in the country, signing an agreement with other laboratories.
A second blow from the UK has been to quickly conclude contracts with manufacturers. In the middle of last year, he had already announced contacts with five companies in addition to AstraZeneca: Janssen (Belgium), Novavax (USA), Pfizer / BioNtech (USA / Germany), Valneva (France) and GSK / Sanofi (United Kingdom / France).
Third, the country was the first in Europe to approve the use of a vaccine, more than a month ahead of the rest of the continent. The MHRA (regulatory agency) gave the green light to Pfizer’s vaccine on December 2, which guaranteed it 1 million doses already available the following week. By the end of the month it was the Oxford vaccine’s turn, and in January Moderna’s immunizer was also approved. The advance was made possible because the UK government changed the regulations of the MHRA, allowing the vaccines to be used prior to their final registration.
A fourth step the UK took before everyone else was to postpone the second dose, to give the first to as many people as possible. Although controversial – scientists point out the risk of this stimulating mutations – the measure was later endorsed by the WHO advisory group, as a resource to protect more people.
The postponement of the second dose could end up backfiring on Boris if the delay in vaccine supply – as happened in the case of Pfizer – jeopardizes the administration of the second injection, but the NHS says that the supply is guaranteed by Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
The fifth step was to widen access as much as possible – the commitment is that every resident of England has a post within 10 miles of their home. The health system opened another 10 of the 50 planned mega-vaccination centers this week. In addition to mega-structures, doses can be taken in 1,200 clinics, around 200 pharmacies, and over 200 hospitals. By the end of the month, the government promises to vaccinate 24 hours a day.
A sixth difference in favor of the British is an easy registration system for getting vaccinated, without the need for medical consultation or written consent, as required in some European countries.
Finally, Boris Johnson prioritized actions guided by behavioral science before becoming Prime Minister in his Brexit campaign in 2016. The UK woke up early to the need to tackle anti-vaccines and launched massive campaigns of positive messages on social networks, actions to remove posts containing disinformation and teams to answer questions.
Barring the unforeseen, these seven decisions can lead Boris to reverse the image of incompetence attributed to him during the pandemic, after having broken several promises to implement tests, fail in his monitoring application and decree late confinements, hesitant and ineffective.
Even in these areas, the Prime Minister is starting to turn the corner. The UK government announced last week that it would double test units to 500 and broke the record for people contacted: over one million in the first seven days of the year. According to the NHS Test & Trace, the program is able to isolate 86.6% of people who test positive and 92.7% of their contacts.
The pressure on the service will increase, now that all travel lanes are closed: Anyone arriving in the UK must undergo a mandatory ten-day quarantine (or 5, if they test negative for Sars-Cov-2) , but, according to the UK Sunday Times newspaper, it can receive help from GPS, facial recognition and facial intelligence.
In this new surveillance system, not confirmed by the government, anyone quarantined would be contacted once a day and asked to send a selfie within 20 minutes. The software would check the face and location of the photo. Police would be called if the photo was not received or if the image did not prove detention.
If the vaccination council remains firm, Boris Johnson has a better chance of weathering a second storm, on the economy side. Consuming Brexit has resulted in costs and delays for several businesses, even leading to shortages at some stores, and the new lockdown has increased the chances of the country plunging into recession again.
In the first half of the year, the country’s GDP fell 3% through March and 19% in the second quarter, the biggest drop in UK history. In November, when non-essential stores, bars, restaurants and some of the hotels were closed, the economy shrank 2.6% from October (in the service sector the decline was 3 , 4%). The result ended six consecutive months of resumption of the first wave.
The economic crisis has so far been politically attenuated by the mechanism for reducing hours worked, in which the government assumes the payment of part of the wages of employees. In the medium term, however, Boris must lack the resources to keep one of his main promises of the 2019 campaign: that of earning the confidence of voters in the north and center-north of the country, who voted for the first. once in the Conservative Party pending public investment and economic recovery.