The Covid-19 vaccine must not be used to cover-up the UK's mishandling of the pandemic

The Covid-19 vaccine must not be used to cover-up the UK's mishandling of the pandemic
Comment: Even as doubts linger over equal access and effectiveness, the UK government's touting of the Covid-19 vaccine must not whitewash the catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, argues Malia Bouattia
5 min read
25 Nov, 2020
The vaccine could change the tide of the war against covid-19 [Getty]

As announcements over the progress of the Covid-19 vaccine continue to look more promising,  the worry over who will have access to it also grows.

The business secretary, Alok Sharma, announced last week that the government has secured 5 million doses of a vaccine by the pharma company Moderna, which has made considerable strides forward and stated that their vaccine is 95% effective.

They are awaiting safety checks and trials, which are required in order to approve and roll out the vaccine. The process of administering the vaccine should be able to start in earnest by the spring, it is hoped.

This deal means that the UK now has 355 million potential vaccine doses agreed with various developers. This includes 100 million doses of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and 40 million BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine doses. Sharma said that this now puts the country "towards the front of the international pack on a per capita basis".

However, something the business secretary has failed to also mention is that the UK has also been one of the leading countries as far as infections, fatalities and overall catastrophic handling of the pandemic. Nothing in the government’s approach so far points to the fact that we should trust their claims now.

Whilst progress on securing a vaccine brings some level of relief, hearing the likes of Matt Hancock, the health secretary, patting himself on the back is frustrating to say the least. He stated that the government has spent over £230 million "into manufacturing any successful vaccine and an enormous amount of planning and preparation has taken place across government to be able to quickly roll out the vaccine, including ensuring we have adequate provision, transport, PPE and logistical expertise to do so."

None of the resources listed by Hancock were sufficient throughout the pandemic, when they existed at all, to protect people, save lives and ensure that basic living necessities are delivered to a population plagued more and more by unemployment and poverty.

It took considerable levels of shaming by medical staff and the wider population for even basic PPE to be provided, for example. And the NHS are still overworked, underfunded and understaffed. It is simply not able to deal with the sheer volume of cases they are confronted with.

What assurances are there that the government will, 10 months on, now provide the needed resources for medical staff to also deliver vaccines – in the words of Hancock – "as quickly as possible"?

Britain is scrambling to buy vaccines [Getty]

We are already seeing the strain on medical services simply in the preparatory phase. The NHS is expecting to rely on "inexperienced staff" who will all be expected to sit through a two hour online training on how to administer the vaccine, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

This is to ensure that doctors and nurses are able to focus their energy on continuing to treat infected patients. Because despite the PR spin over a potential antidote to the virus by the state, until it has been disseminated throughout the population, people are still being infected and dying.

Furthermore, retired doctors, health visitors and physiotherapists will be called on to support this work, an initiative that was also used when the pandemic initially hit the UK.

Once we do eventually reach the point of mass vaccination, and life returns to relative normalcy the government must be forced to answer a very long list of questions about the blood on their hands

Equal access to the vaccine

There must be a number of measures that the government commits to if this is to be done without the disastrous outcomes of large amounts of fatalities among these retired medical professionals which we witnessed during the first wave of the pandemic.  

Our government has demonstrated in its policies, that it doesn’t care about the most vulnerable in society, nor the NHS staff and frontline workers who have fought and risked their health in keeping us alive and society running during this time of crisis.

It therefore becomes imperative that we apply the necessary pressure and means of accountability, to force them to ensure that these groups are prioritised once the vaccine is approved and able to be distributed.

Afterall, Johnson, his cabinet, and his party are relying on the very NHS, which they have repeatedly voted to defund and privatise, in order to fulfil the mission to vaccinate the nation.

England is halfway through its month of lockdown [Getty]

The Tories also expect to use council offices, fire stations, sports centres, and libraries, all of which have been cut to the bone and many sold off to private companies. The irony would have been something to ponder, if we weren’t still the ones paying the price for their profit driven disastrous choices.

It is therefore important that we all remain vigilant of Tory attempts to suddenly present themselves as the saviours.

Thousands have died needlessly, the economy is in tatters and we are being forced to pay the bill with our jobs and our taxes – while the government continues to prefer to allocate resources to hunting migrants and killing them at sea.

The families of those who have died from Covid-19 are seeking justice, and forcing the government to listen despite its refusal to engage with them.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK have literally projected their faces and voices onto the walls of parliament.

This government refuses to even hear of the pain inflicted on so many families, if that isn’t indication enough that they are a morally bankrupt institution, I don’t know what is.

Read more: Golden Dawn: The fall of Greece's neo-Nazi party

But these families also remind us, that once we do eventually reach the point of mass vaccination, and life returns to relative normalcy (and I use this term loosely), the government must be forced to answer a very long list of questions about the blood on their hands and the destruction of everything we hold dear in society. 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.