So do the vaccines not work then? That’s certainly the impression you’d get from the way various members of SAGE are carrying on, warning of new waves and new variants and the need to delay the end of lockdown even further (completely ignoring the fact that half of America is now open without any problems so far).
As Sherelle Jacobs asks in the Telegraph, why is the debate continuing as though nothing has changed despite half the country – the most vulnerable half – being vaccinated?
Instead of discussing how quickly vaccines could spell the end of restrictions, the commentariat fixates on the risk of another wave as if absolutely nothing has changed. Somehow, despite low deaths, the Indian variant rather than the vaccine has become the game changer.
We have become wearily used to these media interventions from SAGE members in the build-up to key decisions around lockdowns, usually pushing some skewed version of the scientific evidence to frighten the public and pile pressure on the Government to tighten or maintain restrictions. This was bad enough in the autumn before the vaccines were on the scene, but now it leaves you wondering if they know something we don’t about how well the vaccines prevent death and serious disease.
The Government has been continually putting out new research showing how effective the vaccines are, including against the Indian variant, and while I have written on a number of occasions about the shortcomings of these studies, I had been assuming that the vaccines do work, or at least that the Government and its scientists believe they work. With all this talk of third waves and extending lockdown, you have to wonder.
The latest line to justify extending the lockdown is from NERVTAG member Professor Ravi Gupta, who argues for just a few more weeks to let more people get vaccinated, saying there are signs an “explosive” third wave is on the horizon.
Yet according to the latest figures, 51.3% of the adult population has now had one vaccine dose and 31.4% has had two. Over 90% of the over-70s are now fully vaccinated.
The vaccines are supposed to be up to 90% effective at preventing symptomatic infection, including in the over-65s. They are also claimed to be a 90% effective at preventing hospitalisation or death (though presumably their efficacy is reduced somewhat in the frail elderly). This means any new “surge” will have something like one tenth of the infections of earlier waves, while hospitalisations and deaths should be up to a hundred times less – a non-event in infectious disease terms. While these are likely overestimates of vaccine effectiveness, especially among those most susceptible to the disease, there is also naturally acquired immunity and prior immunity that will help to bring the disease burden down.
However you look at it, if the vaccines are going to do their thing then they are already doing it and there’s no point postponing the unlocking. If they’re not working then there’s nothing we can do about it now anyway so we might as well get back to living fully. Either way, the SAGE prophets of doom should be roundly ignored.