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Sensemaker: Reasons to be hopeful

Sensemaker: Reasons to be hopeful

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Russian troops were deployed to monitor a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • McDonalds said it would start selling a new line of “McPlant” plant-based burgers from next year.
  • Collins Dictionary chose “lockdown” as 2020’s word of the year

Reasons to be hopeful

There’s one story that looms over all else this morning: Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine appears to be on track for release fairly rapidly. There would, in a normal time, be a lot to say about the technical novelty of the formula developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, a German company. The so-called mRNA vaccine is, itself, a bit of a marvel. But all of that pales in comparison to what it might mean:

  • The first big thing is that, based on preliminary results, the vaccine appears to be very effective. The authorities would license a vaccine that reduced the risk of catching the disease by half. But this trial seemed to reduce the incidence of the disease among subjects by 90 per cent. There is a way to go yet on the trial, and we do not know if it works better on some populations than others. But that level of success in protecting patients is remarkable.
  • The second big thing to watch is safety: a mass vaccine programme needs to be very safe. If you are handing out tens of millions of doses, a one-in-a-thousand problem could hurt a lot of people.
  • Third, the specific strategy adopted by this vaccine seems to work at provoking an effective immune response – and that is a big deal because other vaccine candidates are in the same lane behind it. So even if Pfizer’s particular formula does not make it to market, or they have supply chain problems, others might.
  • Fourth, the news of the impending vaccine should make governments both more relaxed about generous support (it’s not forever!) and keener to make sure there is not a vast hollowing-out of sectors if some sort of normal is about to return.

There is a way to go: getting it tested, produced, shipped and administered will take a while. The US has ordered 100m doses, the UK 40m (including 10m by the end of the year) and the EU is negotiating for 200m. There are big logistical challenges. But it is now seriously plausible that we will get back to a more normal life by the spring.

Today in the app… Read Rui Ma’s profile of Jack Ma, the tech tycoon who dared to pick a fight with Xi Jinping. Sign up for today’s lunchtime open news meeting, when we’ll surely talk vaccines and America’s new management; and for tomorrow evening’s ThinkIn, when I’ll be asking how universities should pick students this year if no one trusts exam results.

Please share this Sensemaker with your friends and colleagues.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Pfizergeddon
The stock markets reacted to the news: Pfizer shares jumped 8 per cent and BioNTech by about 15 per cent. But Zoom, the video conferencing software, dropped 18 per cent while Rolls-Royce, the aircraft engine maker, rocketed by 44 per cent. Investors see this as a path back to the old world. Cinemas, cruises and other shuttered industry all soared on the news. More broadly, the FTSE 100 index of companies listed on the London Stock Exchange rose by about 5 per cent: the old ways may be coming back.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

The state of the (finished) race
The US president’s response to the vaccine news was to complain Pfizer had held it back from before the election – which he continues to fight. At the moment, the Trump campaign is attempting to litigate the vote, but it is impossible to see it succeeding. The attorney general has provoked the resignation of his lead election integrity official by making it easier, in effect, for the federal government to investigate state administration of voting. Republic senators have given Trump their support in this grim effort. But the litigants are not competent. One of their claims in Michigan has been knocked back because their lawyers botched the paperwork. The whole effort is bungling, but the party is doing enough to seed a stab-in-the-back myth.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public policy

Transition
The Biden-Harris campaign has, nonetheless, switched to setting up the Biden-Harris transition team. Despite the refusal of the Trump-led executive to give them access to the normal infrastructure for this process, the president-elect announced a Covid expert panel – and pleaded with Americans to wear masks. The contrast between Biden immediately moving on to the process of government while the incumbent was raging at Pfizer was quite something. New cases in the US are at around 130,000 per day.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

The state of the (finished) race
The US president’s response to the vaccine news was to complain Pfizer had held it back from before the election – which he continues to fight. At the moment, the Trump campaign is attempting to litigate the vote, but it is impossible to see it succeeding. The attorney general has provoked the resignation of his lead election integrity official by making it easier, in effect, for the federal government to investigate state administration of voting. Republic senators have given Trump their support in this grim effort. But the litigants are not competent. One of their claims in Michigan has been knocked back because their lawyers botched the paperwork. The whole effort is bungling, but the party is doing enough to seed a stab-in-the-back myth.


New things technology, science, engineering

Breakthrough?
Richard Branson has managed to run a tiny enclosed carriage along a set of rails at 107mph. Truly, an age of marvels! But apparently, this is not just a not-very-fast train. The plan is that – eventually – the Virgin Hyperloop will allow us to mount a little enclosed pod that will race to 600mph on magnetic tracks, and travel between Washington DC and New York in 30 minutes. The plan is to get the certifications nailed down by 2025 so that the thing can start working in 2030.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

House of Lords
Forgotten amid the viral news, the UK’s exit from the EU continues. Last night, the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly that the government should not pass legislation that would breach its obligations under the withdrawal agreement that it concluded with the EU at the turn of this year. The incoming Biden government has been clear that it thinks this legislation is dismal. The cost of this odd posturing is getting harder to bear.

Stay safe, wash your hands.

Chris Cook
@xtophercook

Photographs Getty Images, Virgin Hyperloop