The head of the Welcome Trust – an organisation with deep links to big pharma – has called for more vaccines to be purchased and given to developing countries so as to reduce the pool of unvaccinated in which mutations can occur. Gosh. He isn’t of course the only one to see the pandemic as a huge opportunity. Remember the ‘Threat – Opportunity’ matrix which all these revenue masters learn in primary school; of course they analyse the pandemic in terms of the market threats and opportunities. Why not? But all this is coated of course with warm words or, more accurately, false narratives.
Just to correct Sir Jeremy Farrar, (who incidentally was in on the secret call which Dr Fauci arranged to manage and do damage limitation on the first findings by scientists that the virus was manufactured in a lab ), current evidence is that most vaccines have very limited efficacy against mild infection and transmission. For example for AstraZeneca (with its “extremely rare” side-effects) after three months it seems to offer no more protection against transmission than not being vaccinated at all. Protection against transmission also drops for Pfizer.  Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca also lose efficacy against a “high viral load”* very rapidly. For example Pfizer efficacy against a “high viral load” drops from an initial 92% to 78% after 3 months.  Presumably this fall continues over the next 9 months. That is; these two leading vaccines both offer limited or very limited protection against mild infection and transmission.
Unless we get to a point then that everyone in the world is vaccinated or boosted every three months there will continue to be significant global transmission of the virus. Given the cost of the vaccines as well as logistics difficulties even in developed countries in giving every member of the population a dose every three months this is not realistic. The goal proposed by Sir Jeremy Farrar is not a realistic one. By all means let’s increase the distribution of vaccines in developing countries; it will reduce the number of deaths. But, realistically, the goal of reducing transmission to prevent evolution of the virus is a utopia. Sir Jeremy Farrar must understand this (or he is unqualified for his position).
What is not 100% clear to me from the Guardian article or Observer piece is whether Jeremy Farrar is calling for a) governments to buy more doses and then give them to low-income countries or b) for the vaccine manufacturers to simply provide more at cost to low-income countries. According to this Guardian article the UK government is buying the Pfizer Covid vaccine at £22.00 a dose (I think that is each of the 2 dose regime). Manufacturing cost according to the article £0.76. Pfizer has, according to the same article, given 2% of production to low-income countries. In his article for the Observer Jeremy Farrar writes: “Rich countries, who have the majority of existing supply, must share more doses over the coming months”. In this case this would appear to mean a); the UK should give some of the doses it has bought at a 28x mark-up and then presumably buy more (if he is talking about Pfizer). He also suggests governments increasing funding for a WHO scheme which aims to achieve equitable access to vaccines. In both cases it would appear that Jeremy Farrar is wringing his hands and imploring governments to give more money to pharmaceutical companies (or the WHO – who in turn spend some of the money buying vaccines from pharmaceutical companies) on a project which is very unlikely to achieve the goal of preventing future mutations. I don’t see him in this piece asking Pfizer to increase the share of its production which it makes available to low-income countries via the WHO scheme.
The end-game for the pandemic
The reality looks very much like: Sars-Cov-2 will continue to mutate and throw up new variants. Vaccines may need to be modified and we may get to a point where people will need to take cocktails of multiple vaccines. Vaccines will offer some protection but some vaccinated people will still get ill and die. Due to rapidly waning efficacy of vaccines and the realistic time period between vaccination (the absolute best it seems realistic to hope for in the developed world would be at 6 month intervals) as well as the fact that vaccines have quite limited efficacy against transmission, the virus will not be eliminated. Sars-Cov-2 and variations looks like being here to stay.
We can hope; a miracle may occur; the virus could mutate itself into causing a much, much, milder illness. But, in general, it looks like the situation is quite analogous to the flu virus. Multiple variations, changing each year; some protection from vaccines, but it will remain a killer of the elderly and infirm. The question then is; what restrictions are going to be put in place in the long-term? At the moment we have absurd panicky reactions to Omicron. But next it will be Pi. At some point ‘democratic’ governments will come under pressure (from business) to implement balanced long-term measures instead of these knee-jerk responses. They may even realise this themselves. Right now it looks like these restrictions will probably include: testing for international travel, limited quarantines after international travel, exclusion from participation in social life of the unvaccinated enforced with digital ‘Covid passes’ – and, in some countries, mandatory vaccination, together with requirements to self-isolate when positive (widely ignored for the obvious reason that billions of people around the world cannot afford to stop earning money for two weeks). To his credit, Sir Jeremy Farrar specifically calls for support to enable the less well-off to self-isolate when positive. (There is a limited scheme available in the UK but not enough it seems to persuade everyone).
All this is a classic example of how large corporations (pharma) and governments, both top-down ‘right-wing’ organisations in Illich’s sense, try to ‘deliver’ solutions. These solutions have certain characteristics; they are very expensive; they build in addiction and reuse of the product (repeated vaccinations); they involve coercion rather than voluntary consent; they ameliorate the problem they are trying to solve to sufficient extent to justify the measures but the cost to benefit ratio is huge (mirrored, of course, by the enormous profits made by those at the top).
The alternative, ‘left-wing’ model (in Illich’s sense) would be based on: accurate information dissemination (including about the risks and limited efficacy of the vaccines alongside the benefits) and voluntary actions by individuals to get vaccinated when medically appropriate (i.e. risk groups and those who do not have natural immunity), voluntary social-distancing in realistic ways and self-isolation when ill. The latter would require employers to act in a socially responsible way and give people paid time off to self-isolate. Now, of course, it is my turn to dream.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3F2ZJGipiE https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/06/17/covid-19-fauci-lab-leaks-wuhan-china-origins/7737494002/ (Details of the meeting referred to in the audio have not been released. So much for democracy.)
- https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/10/13/do-coronavirus-vaccines-prevent-transmission-of-the-virus [non-peer reviewed study] “Three months after having the AstraZeneca vaccine, those who had breakthrough infections were just as likely to spread the Delta variant as the unvaccinated.”
- https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02261-8 [I think this is the same study as 1.]
* I haven’t read the study but I know enough about how these studies are typically rigged by statistical manipulations to understand that what constitutes exactly a “high viral load” is quite likely to have been decided so as to produce the most favourable results for the vaccines.