I for one listened to Matt Hancock’s announcement of the UK approval of Pfizer’s vaccine against Covid 19 with a measure of discomfort. Yes, the announcement is good news. We can now start inoculating the population against this nasty little munchkin (the virus not the health minister). We should be happy and we are. But the message of positivity was delivered with chest beating pride that was uncomfortable to watch to say the least.
The government is quick to claim success and slow to acknowledge failure. Hancock was, in his own words proud to be able to deliver this message. But let’s put this in context. The vaccine was developed by a pharmaceutical multinational and is available to all countries. Not just Britain. Britain played no special part in its development. The sole source of Hancock’s pride was the fact that the UK regulators had seen fit to give the vaccine the go-ahead a few days ahead of those in other countries. That’s it. That’s all it takes to puff up the plumage of the average Cabinet minister.
The proud announcement was, of course, nothing more than an act of political showboating, timed to demonstrate how new post-Brexit UK makes its own decisions. Ever the opportunist, Jacob Rees Mogg even crawled out from under his rock for long enough to claim that such a decision would previously have been impossible for a Britain strangled by European red tape.
Perhaps at this moment of needless triumphalism we should reflect on the UK’s performance in this pandemic as today we hit the less attractive pandemic milestone of 60,000 deaths. I don’t see Hancock or Rees Mogg waving the union flag on that. Perhaps we should acknowledge that the UK death toll per capita is the eighth highest in the world (out of 220 countries), higher than the US with its “it will magically go away one day” healthcare policy. Higher than Sweden with its “we trust the people to do the right thing” hands off approach.
And what is the government’s latest health tip? Play charades instead of Cluedo. Yes, really. Very well then – I’ll get the butler to fetch the cucumber sandwiches, Madeira and Dundee cake shall I?
Of course this isn’t a game. We are playing with people’s lives and we should reflect on the fact that many more people have died in the UK than should have done when you take into account the facilities available in our health service. So my advice to Mr Hancock would be to put the flag down. Gestures of relief would be more appropriate.
So Britain is first to license the vaccine. Other countries will take their time. Maybe the UK regulators have been pressured to produce a decision more rapidly than they should. Maybe not. Maybe they simply work harder and better than their European cousins. It really doesn’t matter – the end result is the same. But please drop the political windowdressing and puerile flag-waving. And a little less of the false pride. Because we all know what pride comes before.