Never mind the week, there are only two real stories this year. The world’s been convulsed with a hideous virus, that’s claimed more than fifty thousand lives in UK alone. And now we have a vaccine. Donald Trump? Just an orange inkblot on the pages of history. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, it’s worth putting aside the relentless razzmatazz of the news cycle, and taking stock.
‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’
It was nigh on three years before Churchill’s ringing rhetoric translated into final victory in World War Two. This time it’ll be much sooner.
In large measure thanks to the trailblazing efforts of a husband and wife team comparable to Marie Curie and hubby Pierre.
Though their radioactivity research had its downside, as Japan learned in 1945, it did lead to meaningful treatment of cancer as well as x-rays.
And the symmetry holds good in that the new Covid-19 vaccine may also provide spin-off treatments for diseases ranging from HIV to melanoma.
Plus these two ethnic Turkish Germans share the same total focus on their work.
Even on the wedding day they only took a brief spell off for the ceremony before cracking on in the laboratory.
The lady, Dr Özlem Türeci, is the daughter of a physician. But the man, Prof Ugur Sahin, is the son of a factory worker in Cologne. A Gastarbeiter, Germany’s tactful way of saying a second-class citizen.
And in some ways not much has changed.
Though they’re now paper billionaires they haven’t got round to buying a telly, and he still cycles to work.
But now their research has shown a ninety-per-cent-plus success rate in Covid protection, he does at least owe himself a nice new saddle.
Essentially, the stuff works by mobilising the body’s defences against cancer. Happens it does the same with coronavirus.
Of course there are downsides. It’s expensive, and has to be stored at minus seventy degrees Celsius.
Nonetheless, Britain’s bought enough doses to inoculate twenty million people, and it’s hoped they’ll start getting the jab before Christmas.
Sir John Bell, a top prof at Oxford University, puts it simply.
‘I’m really delighted by this result .. it shows you can make a vaccine against this little critter.’
In short, it shows a process that normally takes years can be crunched down to months without compromising safety.
Cue one of the biggest immunisation drives ever. The NHS has been told to gear up for a mass vaccination programme starting next month.
Up to fifteen-hundred GP practices and drive-through centres will have to open every day for twelve hours. Creating a capacity for at least a million doses a week.
Medical students will be drafted in to help, along with retired doctors and nurses.
At least, that’s the plan. There are plenty of reservations on the ground about how it’ll work out.
All being well, however, a handy infrastructure should the home-grown Oxford/AstraZeneca project also bear fruit in the near future.
Ministers have their fingers crossed, as it’ll cost nothing like as much, and won’t need special fridges for storage.
One reason why they’ve ordered a hundred million doses. Enough for all of us.
It goes about things in a more traditional way than the German version. Though it’s still deeply inventive.
Basically, the spiky bit of protein that helps coronavirus to join on to human cells is popped into a common cold virus.
This arms the body’s immune system to crush Covid-19 if it has the cheek to show its face.
But there’s an enemy on another level too. The tide of tripe being churned out on social media about how dangerous it all is.
Research led by Professor Heidi Larson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggests little over half of us would go for the jab.
And when people were shown some of the scary stuff out there the figure dropped significantly.
Some random folk interviewed by Sky News thought the vaccine would be used by the government to ‘cull the population’.
Whatever next? Fiendish defenestration of all Labour voters?
A worry nonetheless, because herd immunity can only be achieved if between fifty and eighty per cent of us are inoculated.
The deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam is doing his bit for the cause, announcing last week that any jab would pass ‘the mum test’.
Vladimir Putin’s done the same with the so-called Sputnik V vaccine, which, incidentally, appears to be every bit as good as the German one.
Some scientists don’t buy the from Russia with love thing, but members of Putin’s family have given it a go, and seem to have survived.
Unlike Donald Trump. Even though he’s still stamping his little foot and telling the world it’s just not fair.
Sorry, chum, say US election officials. The vote was the ‘most secure in American history.
‘There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,’ they added.
So Bojo will have Jo Biden to build bridges with. He’s working on it, but it’s a bit of a chasm he’ll have to cross.
When he fired off a congratulatory tweet, a prominent Democrat fired one back. Describing him as a ‘shapeshifting creep’.
Probably not helped by Bojo’s official go Joe go message which was originally inscribed with the name Donald Trump.
Seems two statements had been prepared in advance, but due to ‘a technical error’ bits of the wrong one were visible on the graphic.
A waspish Times commentator said: ‘It’s like sending the text about friend A, who you are bitching about, to friend A rather than friend B, to whom you had intended to bitch.’
Still, president-elect Biden apparently called Johnson before any other European leader. Jolly decent of him, in the circs.
Though it’s not as if our man hasn’t got a spot of kitchen sink drama to contend with, judging by the brouhaha in Number Ten.
It started with rumours he was about to promote his director of communications, Lee Cain, to chief of staff.
An awful lot of Tory MP’s were not happy, because they hate him. Largely because he hates them.
Turns out Mrs Bojo-to-be, fiancée Carrie Symonds, thinks they’re right. So does that other supremely powerful woman Allegra Stratton, the telly journo who’s become the face of Downing Street briefings.
They’re not in love with Cain’s close ally Dominic Cummings either. And, surprise surprise, he’s out too.
To put it politely, these guys are both more alpha-male than little kitten. Upshot? Snips and snails snipped. Sugar and spice high-fives.
A nation mourns? Unlikely, after Cummings drove out to test his eyes during Lockdown One. Very short-sighted of him.
The nation is involved, however, in that the ex team of Brexit departees were more geared to campaigning than actually governing.
Rubbish timing, given that we’re supposed to be clinching our EU deal or no deal this very week.
Longer term, a significant change of style could be in the offing, making the episode after all a little less onanistic.
Talking of which, spare a thought for another goner, New Yorker mag ex-hack Jeffrey Toobin.
He chose a moment during a staff Zoom call, when he thought he was off camera, to, ahem, give himself the time of day.
Loving oneself may be a lifelong romance. And certainly the health hazards involved have been overstated.
Nonetheless, it’s fair to say this time the poor chap did play a blinder. One way or the other.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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