Britain is certainly not leading the fight against Covid-19

We are not in a race against each other, only coronavirus and the havoc it can wreak

UK health secretary Matt Hancock has said that a Covid-19 vaccine will help people "get back to normal" as the UK becomes the first country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for use. Video: Reuters

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Pfizer will start shipping the Covid vaccine it developed with German group BioNTech to the UK next week after its Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved its use on Wednesday.

The news sparked some very bizarre reactions.

On the one side, there was the by now usual jingoistic nonsense from certain UK quarters about Britain leading the fight against this global pandemic. Presumably simply ordering a product developed in Germany by a German and a US company and manufactured in Belgium constitutes British leadership these days.

On the other side, there was a crescendo of “how come we don’t have it yet?”

Both positions miss the point entirely. If the pandemic – note that word, it means an epidemic that is global, or at least international – has taught us anything, it is how mutually interdependent countries are in terms of travel, economics and health.

This is a new vaccine – in the case of the Pfizer/BioNTech one, an entirely new way of developing a vaccine. It has been developed at a pace that, before this pandemic, would have been considered impossible.

Safety

Public confidence in its ability to do its job effectively and safely is essential.

It is going to take several vaccines and many months, possibly years in some parts of the world, before Covid-19 is consigned to history, or at least considered routinely manageable.

Even in Britain, amid the celebration, it was clear listening to medical commentators that there is no certainty even now about the precise logistics for administering this first vaccine. Plans are being made on the hoof.

There is still much we have to learn. Full long-term safety and immunity data are not yet available. And what is available has been with regulators only for a short time. The formal application by Pfizer – and another vaccine maker, Moderna – for emergency authorisation in Europe and in the United States was made only this week.

We are not racing each other, only the virus and the havoc it can wreak on health, on the economy and on society. A bit of perspective would not go amiss.

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