What do I know about vaccines? Well I got an A level in biology and I worked as a Lab Porter at the National Institute for Medical Research for three weeks over Xmas in 1979 to get some money. As I was doing a project on Immunology as part of my A Level it was quite a handy holiday job, I got to speak to some of the worlds leading experts on the subject. There are quite a few ways I could present that, if I chose to be economical with the truth. However I'd best describe it as that I have a fairly well informed view for someone with a forty year old A level in biology.
However it seems the world is full of people who have a far better education, gained mostly on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. I know enough about science and facts to know that there is absolutely no merit in anything that claims to be scientific and doesn't quote, sources, studies and test results. The vaccine news that Boris released yesterday had none of this. It was a limited statement for PR purposes.Given the fact that many of us are feeling rather down about the current situation and the lockdown, I can see why Boris felt that it was a sensible move to give us a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. The data set that is needed to bring the vaccine to general usage is incomplete and sharing it is not wise. I am not a Boris fan, but I don't disagree with his strategy at this time. Given these circumstances it is ridiculous to make any sort of statements at all about the vaccine, it's safety or the protocols it was developed under.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van Tam gave what I thought was an extremely patronising briefing, drawing analogies between trains arriving, goals being scored in a penalty shoot out and the state of the approval process. Whilst Boris is a politician, Van Tam isn't. He should do his job and stick to the facts and cut the anecdotes. I think he did us no favours at all by talking to us like idiots. I'd far prefer him to put any data that he may have up on a government website somewhere and tells us where to look.
There are only two questions worth asking. The first is whether it can be demonstrated to work (ie stop you getting Covid, or at least stop you suffering the worst effects). The second is whether it is safe. With regards to the first question, it has been quoted as being '90% effective'. Mr Van Tam didn't say what it was 90% effective at doing. Does he mean at giving you antibodies, stopping you having symptoms, stopping you getting the virus, stopping you from passing it on? These are very different things. I wasn't sure which of these it did. As to the safety concerns, this data hasn't been released. We can fairly safely say it doesn't cause you to drop down dead on the spot, as it wouldn't have got this far. What we don't know is whether for elderly and frail people its side effects will be as deadly as the disease. If it is safe for healthy and young care workers, but not safe for the very old, then that is still worth persuing as it will at least make them less likely to pass it on (if indeed it stops transmission).
No vaccine is ever 100% safe. We've eliminated Polio using vaccines. This is a major achievement for humanity. My brother had polio in the 1950's and still has mild limp, so I understand why these things are necessary. Vaccines are good things and I'd have no qualms taking one. If it wasn't as safe as a Polio vaccine, then it would not be widely used. The devil is in the data. It is also fair to say that sometimes side effects are not immediately apparent and sometimes it takes time for this to become clear. Many have a degree of fear that as the vaccine has been rushed through, these problems will not have been fully explored. This is a valid concern and it is one that scientists should be able to mitigate. If you are an early receiver of the vaccine, you will be at a greater risk, however you have to weigh that against the risk of not having a vaccine. If the rate of harm from adverse reaction is miniscule compared to the risk of the virus running rampant, then an sane rational person should take it without qualms. If it is 90% effective in stopping transmission, this is a short cut to herd immunity. Without new hosts, the virus will quickly decline and disappear. That seems to me to be a risk well worth taking.
I must say a few words about some of the wilder theories doing the rounds. If you are worried about Bill Gates 'controlling you', then you'd be far better ditching your mobile phone than refusing a vaccine. These devices track your every move and listen to your every conversation. If such things bother you, this should be what you worry about. Of course, once in a while a wild and wacky theory has some substance but how a virus that started in China, has decimated the worlds stock markets and has randomly killed all manner of wonderful people could be part of a cunning plan by a tech billionaire is just a tad to far fetched for me. I'll stick to the facts and when they are released I will read them for myself. I won't wait for Fred in Kentucky's Youtube Channel to give me his view, entertaining as it may be.