So now we know. Vaccination isn’t going to be a silver bullet after all. Astra Zeneca admits that its vaccine will provide only minimal protection against mild and moderate disease from the South African variant. The establishment media is trying to spin this for all its worth, reassuring us that the vaccine will reduce deaths and serious illness, even from this variant. But what about the next variant? Or the one after that? Or the thousandth variant? Trying to play catch up with a fast mutating coronavirus is a recipe for disaster. Any government that relies on vaccination as its main exit plan is behaving irresponsibly and must be resisted.
State propaganda has for several months focused almost exclusively on vaccination as the way out of this crisis. Every report of horrific death tolls and hospitalisation rates is always swiftly followed by cheery optimism over vaccination. Of course the vaccines are to be welcomed, and of course they will save lives. The vaccine rollout is a real credit to the NHS, and a comparison with the test and trace fiasco clearly demonstrates the immense advantage of local public sector provision over centralised private sector profiteering. But vaccination can only form part of an elimination strategy, it cannot replace it.
Even in the most optimistic scenario, in which vaccines do successfully prevent viral transmission, we would need 80–90 per cent of the population to be vaccinated in order to develop herd immunity from the more transmissible variants. The UK government’s shoddy treatment of black and Asian people during this pandemic has led to deep and justified suspicion within those communities, which will undoubtedly reduce vaccine take up. And besides, none of the vaccines have yet been trialled with or approved for children. So herd immunity is by no means guaranteed, even with an effective vaccine. And that’s before we factor in the vaccine resistance of the new variants.
The government strategy of vaccinating the most vulnerable 13.5 million people and then fully opening up the economy is a policy that can only be described as criminal negligence. Healthy young people may not be as badly at risk as others, but they are at risk nevertheless. Some young people do die from Covid, while many more develop long term health conditions. The truth is that no one fully knows what the long term consequences might be, including for those who appear to have recovered with mild symptoms. But more worryingly, allowing the virus to spread unchecked massively increases the risk of mutations; and eventually a mutation will emerge that is vaccine resistant, putting even those who have been vaccinated at risk of death or serious illness. It is no coincidence that the variants have emerged in countries like the UK, US, Brazil and South Africa, where there has been little or no attempt to eliminate the virus. There hasn’t been a New Zealand variant, or a Vietnamese variant.
The Johnson government’s disastrous handling of this crisis has already given us 112,000 deaths, a figure that continues to rise inexorably. Compare that to Vietnam (35 deaths out of a population of 98 million), Thailand (73 deaths out of 70 million), South Korea (1371 deaths out of 51 million), and New Zealand (25 deaths out of 5 million.) And those countries who have pursued a sensible Zero Covid strategy have been able to safely enjoy normal social and economic lives for months now, including with mass spectator events like football matches and rock festivals, instead of languishing in various levels of lockdown restrictions as we have in the UK.
The Zero Covid strategy is really very simple but it is worth repeating. Instead of partial mockdowns, which puts all the pressure on a few sectors like entertainment, hospitality, retail and education, while forcing tens of millions of workers to continue working in unsafe workplaces, the state should instead pay everyone to stay at home (other than those who are absolutely essential for the maintenance of life) until transmission is driven right down to a level that is sufficiently low to enable a reformed test and trace system to keep us safe. An effective lockdown would be a short lockdown; it is the ineffective mockdowns that drag on endlessly. We also need huge investment both to make workplaces Covid safe and to replace the failed Serco test and trace monolith with an effective locally based, public sector system of Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support – with proper financial and social support for anyone who needs to self-isolate. And finally, we need full public health screening at all ports of entry, with proper quarantine where necessary. It is never too late to do the right thing. Australia went from a higher rate of transmission than the UK a few months ago, to effectively eliminating the virus. We could do that too.
Of course, none of this will happen by wishful thinking. The Johnson government will be content to condemn us to an eternal public health crisis if we allow it to do so. Their only concern is to maintain as far as possible the uninterrupted circulation and accumulation of capital. If we want to live in a country that prioritises our health over corporate profit, then we will have to fight for it. That is why YOU should join Zero Covid today. Join us in building a mass movement that is powerful enough to force through the changes we need in order to eliminate this virus once and for all.
We also have to think beyond this particular crisis in order to understand, and prepare for, the pandemics that will undoubtedly follow. This Saturday at 2pm Zero Covid will be hosting an online discussion about the ecology and economics of the pandemic. An outstanding array of speakers (ecologists Rob Wallace and Julia Steinberger and economists Grace Blakeley and Michael Roberts) will help us to understand the causes and consequences of Covid-19, and there will be opportunities for participatory discussion in small breakout groups.
Our future doesn’t have to be a spiral of misery and decline. We as ordinary people can make a difference. But only if we choose to stand up to the vested interests that imposed the failed containment strategy on us in the first place. Join us now in the fight for a better, and healthier, future.
This article was first published at labouroutlook.org