The Financial Express

Still short of answers

| Updated: August 25, 2021 19:04:09

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Science and politics have one thing in common. They change, mutate and are allowed to take U-turns in information and decisions. Their decisions are based on information gleaned through intelligence or scientific study. There are usually excuses when such decisions are reversed, some of which must sound ludicrous even to their own kind. But they're the ones to turn to in times of crisis. Today the World is faced with one where the two disciplines were required to work together. They didn't. Behind it was the role of businesses roughly substituted by the word 'economy'.

On the one hand, science began preaching wearing masks, staying at home and washing hands. Then came the wondrous phenomenon of vaccines, the answer to it all. Produced in record time, approved in even better record time and then bought off by the richest, leaving the rest of the world out to hang and dry. Now, there were two economies that were being supported. Freeing people to move out of isolation was, as scientists told us, greatly influenced by the new concept-better to be in fresh air than cooped up in a room. That allowed shops to re-open and eateries were back in business. Offices continued to operate mainly through the work-from-home philosophy. Travel resumed in some countries.

The other side of business was the economic boom for pharmaceutical industries. Ten billion pounds sterling were pumped into the industry for vaccine development, all bought back and more in the pipeline. Two doses, we were told, and the risk goes away. That changed to 'reduce the risk of death'. Worldwide, the top ten pharma companies’ gross business is close to a trillion dollars. The demand for vaccines will fill their coffers with massive profits.

While Pfizer will post $ 15 billion this year, they and Moderna have announced increases of prices. So much for CSR and responsibility as a whole. Some companies such as AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson have stated they would provide the vaccine at cost price till the pandemic is over.

Yet others such as Sinopharm have provided vaccine free of cost at home while charging for exports. And the largest exports will be for impoverished economies. Politics remains silent amidst all this except for trying to twist arm on political considerations in exchange for-guess what? Vaccines they must pay for. Politics is in agreement with science about a booster dose that the UK and US are due to roll out in September. Where does that leave the developing world? Nowhere!

Sir Andrew Pollard, paediatric surgeon and immunologist, a member of the vaccine-development team at Oxford, has recently dropped a bombshell. It's not so much as what he said to the UK Parliamentary Committee; it's what he didn't. His informed statement was blunt. Even with the full population vaccinated, the fast mutating Delta Strain out-manoeuvres the effect of vaccine. Specialists in our country, whose advice has largely gone unheeded in any case, are then barking up the wrong tree. Their advice on inoculation to prevent and/or fight the virus along with making mask wearing mandatory and maintaining social distancing must also change. They opposed the lifting of lockdowns, inter-district travel, public transport travel and urging against the reopening of resorts and hotels.

 If inoculation, even with booster doses, does not protect against the virus, what will? There begins a new journey into the unknown wing of science. That, too, before one considers that vaccines may or may not have future side effects.

Sir Andrew said it all. What he didn't was indication of a way forward. Otherwise the countless millions still unwilling to be vaccinated have a strong argument to continue refusing. As for the faithful who queue up in adverse weather and management situations, newer and effective communications must be made available. Educated or not, people weigh options before coming to decisions. Some fall back on wise words, others on information and yet others consign it to fate.

The suspicion remains. Is this another gimmick towards scraping up more money for pharmaceuticals? Politics will have to decide on a dilemma that seems rather dense. Whichever way it goes, they look like ending up losers. The protests against lockdowns are growing and spreading.

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