For Boris Johnson, the introduction of the vaccine offers one last chance to demonstrate competence


London – Britain’s approval of the coronavirus vaccination this week, beating all other Western countries, would be a political gift to all leaders. But perhaps none need it as much as Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A successful vaccine launch could be the last chance to show Johnson’s government’s competence, having laid the groundwork for virtually every other step in its response to the pandemic, from late closures to a costly, ineffective test-tracking program – all contributing to the country with the highest death toll in Europe. .

This will also happen when Britain comes to the culmination of its long negotiations on trade relations with the European Union after leaving the bloc this year. Mr. Johnson’s allies quickly argued that the rapid approval of the vaccine would justify the Brexit project.

This claim was quickly dispelled. Nevertheless, the mass vaccination program will be an early test in determining how well Britain is performing once it is fully committed to Europe.

“The British government is looking for ways to win because they have caused such a bloody mess in the epidemic,” said David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, who has become a loud critic of his performance. “The nationalist response is brutal and rather distasteful.”

Nevertheless, it is difficult to separate policy from public health. As the first vials of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rolled into Britain in refrigerated trucks from Belgium this week, the London negotiators were the final stages in a long-term EU-UK trade agreement. Discussions were adjourned Friday night amid signs that the breakthrough required Mr. Johnson’s personal intervention.

The epidemic has increased the pressure to close the deal, as failure could deepen the economic damage caused by multiple closures. However, the convergence of events can also be haphazard, allowing the desperate prime minister to resolve an issue that has divided Britain for more than four years at a time when relief is finally beginning for a country devastated by the virus.

Anti-Brexit politicians reached a dull nationalist chord, saying Britain’s early approval of the vaccination was the first of many triumphs – although despite all the admiration, it is only days ahead of the U.S. license and a few weeks before the European Union.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said Britain was moving faster than its neighbors because “we are a much better country than all of them.” Lower House chief Jacob Rees-Mogg said European regulators are “slightly sniffing” that they have not yet been approved.

“We will do it, we will leave, we will draw our own conclusions,” he said. “We are now free from the dead hands of the European Union.”

In fact, the rapid approval of the Pfizer vaccine was not made possible by Brexit. Although Britain officially withdrew from the European Union last January, it will continue to abide by the bloc’s rules until a transitional period expires on 31 December.

The British health regulator has called for an emergency power that is available to all members of the European Union to make the epidemic move faster.

Nevertheless, Britain’s only optics ahead of France and Germany are attractive because they play into the Brexit party’s argument that Britain, unpacked from Brussels, will be more mobile and flexible, able to act as a free agent in the global market from vaccines to ventilators.

“No one is very proud of the results of the pandemic,” said former Prime Minister Tony Blair, chief of staff to Jonathan Powell. “But they believe we will become a magically better country by being outside Europe.”

If anything, according to Mr. Powell, the Pfizer vaccine was proof of the value of the pre-Brexit cross-border collaboration: it was developed by scientists of Turkish descent at a German biotechnology company manufactured by an American pharmaceutical company and a plant in Belgium.

Brexit clearly and subtly colored Mr. Johnson’s epidemic management. Britain has refused to join the multi-billion dollar European Union vaccine purchase fund and has avoided a European consortium to buy ventilators. The latter decision caused anxiety in the early days of the epidemic, when it seemed that hospitals might not have enough machines for their patients.

Eventually, hospitals were able to cope with the needs. On Monday, Mr Johnson boasted that Britain, acting on its own, was the first to order the supply of the Pfizer vaccine, providing 40 million doses. All in all, he gave more than 350 million doses to seven vaccine candidates, covering his stakes in case some didn’t work out.

But Mr Johnson parted ways with other European leaders in waiting until the end of March to introduce the closure. This fall, amid the second wave of the virus, it was once again more cautious than the continent’s leaders and only introduced a nationwide short circuit in November. Critics say these delays come to life; Britain’s death toll has exceeded 60,000.

“As long as we were locked, we didn’t seem to be doing anything against the test-trace-and-isolation system,” Professor King said. “We still don’t have a system that is close to the capacity we need.”

He and other experts were less concerned that the British regulator was quick to approve the Pfizer vaccine. According to the British Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency, their independence and reputation across Europe is due to a thorough review of new medicines.

They also expressed confidence that the vaccine would be distributed by the UK National Health Service and not by private contractors such as companies participating in a trouble-free test-tracking system.

Nevertheless, there are concerns about how the vaccine will be distributed, which should be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. Prior to the first injections, the government abruptly changed the importance of who fired the shot first, excluding those in nursing homes for the benefit of nursing home staff and people 80 years of age or older based on hospitals or discussions there.

The confused messaging by the government has harmed Mr Johnson, not only with the public but also with members of his own Conservative Party. This week, it had to stop a revolt by parliamentary conservatives over the multi-level restrictions that replaced the nationwide blockade lifted on Tuesday.

Experts hoped the arrival of a vaccine would free some of the vitriol from the controversy debate. But government messaging could be a weakness in gaining widespread public acceptance of the vaccine. In addition to anti-vaccination activists, experts say it will have to face the caution of people who question whether Britain has stimulated its approval.

“They have to think of people who say,‘ Why are you pushing this so fast? “said Devi Sridhar, director of the global health program at the University of Edinburgh, who added that” tomorrow, if I knew, he would undertake. “.”

Mr Johnson appointed Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative MP, with a poll to coordinate the introduction of the vaccine. Zahawi, who has a degree in chemical engineering, was a co-founder of the Internet polling company YouGov, which he later sold.

In YouGov’s poll on the vaccine, which was conducted last month after Pfizer reported positive results in clinical trials, two-thirds of those surveyed said it was “very likely” or “quite likely” to receive the vaccine when it became available. One-fifth say they are unlikely to take it, while 12 percent say they are not sure.

“You need to see if there are social influencers or health workers in line,” Professor Sridhar said.