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Editor’s Letter

This week in Tortoise: The vaccine

Monday 11 January 2021


Britain has suffered more than most countries from the coronavirus. And yet, in its handling of the pandemic, the Johnson government has time and again succumbed to optimism bias. In its decision-making, it’s erred on the side of optimism: in March, September and December, the prime minister delayed the tough decision to lock down in the hope that things would take a turn for the better – they didn’t. In the rollout of mass testing, the government promised a world-beating programme in the hope that everything went right – it didn’t.  

Now, it’s vaccinations. Rarely have we had such a source of hope: I can’t remember an example of scientific innovation at such pace and scale. The vaccines could spell the end of a year-long parade of lockdowns, business closures, case numbers and deaths.  

But, in promising vaccinations of nearly 15 million people by the middle of next month, is the British government once again banking on everything going right? This week’s Tortoise File examines the UK’s vaccine programme.  

It starts with Matthew d’Ancona’s audio essay today, “Shot in the dark”. He tells a story – the latest in his series of stories on Boris Johnson’s government during the pandemic – of the biggest bet of Johnson’s career, a bet that, even now, is not certain to be pulled off.

Tomorrow, Mark Mardell looks at the most influential man in British medicine: Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, who was instrumental in getting the Oxford/Astra vaccine up and running, who has been overseeing the development of new C-19 lateral flow tests, who is monitoring the data on future coronavirus treatments – the behind-the-scenes fixer who works between the lab, big pharma and government.    

Also this week, this morning’s Sensemaker will look in depth at the worrying and changing demographics of coronavirus infections and deaths in the UK. Chris Cook will examine the schools mess that led into Britain’s latest lockdown. And we’ll publish what we’re calling a “user’s guide” to the vaccine.

This week’s ThinkIns:

We’re also launching an audio Sensemaker Daily in the Spotify Drive playlist; and, as you’d expect, we have commissioned a run of slow, considered opinion on Trump, America and democracy now.

As always, please do join us – and let us know what you think.

Have a great week.

Allbest.

James Harding
Editor & Co-founder