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Sensemaker: Vaccine madness

Sensemaker: Vaccine madness

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Demonstrators filled downtown La Paz to protest against the arrest of former Bolivian president Jeanine Anez.
  • Cardinal Luis Ladaria, on behalf of the Vatican, said the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex marriages.
  • 10 Downing Street unveiled a new briefing room refurbished by a Russian-owned company.

Vaccine madness

Europe continues to botch its roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine – with countries across the EU (plus Norway) reacting fairly incomprehensibly to adverse reaction reports. 

The chain of events started in Denmark, which paused the vaccine roll-out after a woman died from an unusual blood clot. The issue is not whether or not there have been such clots: AstraZeneca itself says it knows of 15 deep vein thrombosis events and 22 pulmonary embolisms across the whole of the EU and UK up to 8 March. The issue is whether the response is remotely proportionate.

In Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg a specific batch of the AstraZeneca jab has been pulled. Meanwhile in Norway, Bulgaria, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Cyprus, use of the AZ product has been suspended altogether. Germany suspended its use of the jab yesterday after finding seven cases from its 1.6 million vaccinations – about 4.5 cases per million.

It is worth, for a moment, pausing to think about these numbers. 

  • First, because the number of clots is very low in absolute terms. So low that it is not clear it is not just chance. As Dr Michael Head at the University of Southampton says: “The data we have suggests that numbers of adverse events related to blood clots are the same (and possibly, in fact lower) in vaccinated groups compared to unvaccinated populations.“ 
  • Second, because the context is that a large country with integrated healthcare systems next door to the EU has rolled out this vaccine in a big way. And, despite, a pretty good adverse-reaction-spotting system, the UK has not spotted any problems. So Europe’s starting position should be bullish.
  • Third, because we know, with absolute certainty, that the virus is pretty lethal. Europe, furthermore, is not Australia or New Zealand. There are renewed outbreaks across the continent. And, setting aside little Malta, the best-vaccinated population in the EU is Hungary with 18 vaccinations per 100. The US is at 32 and the UK at 38. Pausing kills, too.

I have some sympathy for the idea that you need to demonstrate normal safety processes are in place to reassure people. But this is, at best, officiousness. At worst, it looks like playing politics about a British-developed vaccine during a pandemic.

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

The Mouse that Roared
Britain is setting out its defence strategy today. The review will announce that Russia is clearly the baddy of the moment – our “most acute threat” – but also notes that China is an authoritarian state. It is slightly muddled about what this means, but Britain, it says, is also preparing for an Indo-Pacific tilt. There will be new investment in cyber capability and integration of science and technology spending into the country’s defence remit. New situation rooms are being built in Whitehall. The arsenal of nuclear warheads is also to be increased. But this all feels a bit puffed-up: they are also announcing deep cuts – retirement beckons for 24 Typhoon jets, 13 Hercules transport planes, two submarine-hunting frigates, 13 minehunters, 10,000 personnel, four infantry battalions, 77 tanks and 760 fighting vehicles. Those new Whitehall meeting rooms will need to have some really good PowerPoints to make up for that.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Wobbly sticks
A new wind turbine that… isn’t a turbine. The Guardian reports that it is possible to build wind farms that do not look like windmills. The new “bladeless turbines stand at 3 metres high, a curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. To the untrained eye it appears to waggle back and forth, not unlike a car dashboard toy. In reality, it is designed to oscillate within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration.” There is good news, here, in that they require less space to operate. The plan is you could put them on highways, and generate energy from the cars whooshing by.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Supreme indifference
A Democratic senator has asked Merrick Garland, the new attorney general, to ask whether the FBI failed in its duty to do proper background checks on Brett Kavanaugh, one of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees.  Sheldon Whitehouse said he is seeking answers about “how, why, and at whose behest” the FBI conducted what he fears might have been a “fake” investigation. It is another reminder that what is past is not done. The events of the past four years have plenty more litigation in them.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Pocket change
The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority has brought charges against NatWest over its failure to comply with anti-money-laundering rules, the FT reports (£) this morning. The FT reports that a single customer deposited £365m in cash in accounts between 2011 and 2016. The customer’s underlying business was in a money-laundering hotspot: money transfers and bureaux de change. This might be a rare thing: a successful prosecution of a big UK name. This sort of offence should be much easier to prosecute than fraud which is prosecuted so incompetently that it has basically been decriminalised in the UK for large companies.

New things technology, science, engineering

Murdoch wins again
Facebook has agreed a three-year deal with News Corp to provide news to the platform in Australia – the consequence of a new bargaining code introduced by Canberra, which seeks to sluice advertising cash from the big tech platforms down into journalism. The FT reports that the amounts that Google and Facebook would end up paying would end up bringing in around A$100m (£77m) to local journalism.

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can.

Chris Cook

Photographs Getty Images, Vortex Bladeless

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