Response to the British Government Proposal to Roll Out A COVD-19 Vaccine Before Christmas

Guest Editorial by John Stone, UK Editor, Age of Autism

The British government (Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured) are running a public consultation with a view to cutting every corner and safeguard in order to roll out a COVID vaccine campaign before Christmas (the British “warp-speed”). presumably with the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca product in mind. For anyone who wants to respond it ends this Friday (18 September). This how I have responded to the on-line form.

None of the initial candidate products purports to offer strong immunity …

Temporary authorisation of the supply of unlicensed products

The urgency of the situation in which such a decision needs to be taken is heavily in doubt. While the government has taken it upon itself to place restrictions on the public from which it would gladly be alleviated the hospitalisation and fatality rates for the virus have been in continuous decline since the spring – if indeed there is a continuing infection rate this presumably confers more certain immunity than any putative vaccine. None of the initial candidate products purports to offer strong immunity so it is hard to see even if there were any good reasons for the present restrictions that the introduction of these products would offer sufficient grounds for their removal. It is more likely that they would simply contribute to public confusion.

As I understand it the decision to distribute unlicensed vaccines (or licensed ones) will be taken by the JCVI. The JCVI is described as an “independent” body, but of what? The chair of the JCVI, Andrew Pollard, is lead developer of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which has been backed by the government to the tune of at least £100 million. In February 2014 Pollard chaired a meeting of the JCVI which recommended the Bexsero Men B vaccine to the schedule of which he was also lead developer, which became part of Conservative window-dressing at the 2015 election. Even if Pollard recuses himself the “independence” of any decision will be in doubt – apart from anything else at its February 2016 meeting the JCVI enjoyed the hospitality of Pollard’s research institution, the Martin School, and his Oxford College, St Cross. It is not reported that any members protested. Dissent at JCVI meetings had never been reported, indeed no votes ever seem to be recorded.

Should a decision be delayed beyond the end of the year it will come under the remit of the licensing authority, the MHRA. The MHRA is entirely funded by the industry for the licensing of medicines and biologicals, and also advised by Prof Pollard. In 2009 the MHRA – at the time of the swine flu scare – failed to detect an association between the GSK vaccine Pandemrix and the condition of narcolepsy, and remained uncontrite in BMJ correspondence as late as 2018. It is illusory at the present time to suppose the licensure in itself provides grounds for confidence. The government in fact has no existing processes to ensure confidence. The government also assumes that anything “authorised” will subsequently be “licensed” which further calls the independence of the process into question. What if it turned out to be not just “temporary”

… whatever happens, the manufacturer makes a killing and there is little sanction on them to ensure safety …

Civil liability and immunity

The document maintains that it would be unfair to manufacturers to have to sustain liability, but it is not clear why it would be fair to the public who have already had incredible costs loaded on to them, whether any suit was against the manufacturer (to be reimbursed by the government) or against the government itself, the cost of which would then be passed to the public, if successful. Admittedly, in almost any circumstances the Legal Aid Agency will fail to support such litigation (a dramatic instance would be Vioxx), so it is somewhat theoretical: whatever happens, the manufacturer makes a killing and there is little sanction on them to ensure safety, let alone that you will not catch the disease.

Ultimately, the government shelters legally behind the principle of informed consent which leaves the onus on the patient or their guardian, but needs to entail that it is genuinely informed (including all the risks and shortcomings of the product as is provided in the Montgomery ruling). It is further prejudicial if scorn and loathing are heaped on anyone who is not sure whether to comply (for instance the several derogatory comments made the Prime Minister about “anti-vaxxers”, or pronouncements by the WHO about the “vaccine hesitant” being a threat to global health) which is devoid of intellectual merit, quite outside the spirit of freedom of choice or the recommendations of the recent Cumberlege review, which considered instances where injured patients were subjected to bullying tactics. This fails to recognise the rights of the patient. It also undermines the rights of the patient if they are expected to be vaccinated to protect someone other than themselves. It is not only a dubious principle it may well be that it is in the interests of children, for example, to acquire natural immunity, particularly if the virulence of the disease retreats to the level of the common cold (which seems entirely likely).

Successive governments have also undermined their credibility by turning away applications for vaccine damage awards – in 2017 the Department of Works and Pensions was hauled over the coals in the Court of Appeal for using a “Catch 22” like strategy to deny claims over Pandemrix for narcolepsy in the swine flu episode. How does it propose to establish its fairness now? Another question is why after that experience they are so confident they will get it right this time? Or perhaps the principle of hit and run holds this time as well.

Expansion to the workforce of the eligible to administer vaccines

This is a reckless initiative. For instance, the business of the US vaccine court tends to be dominated by claims of shoulder injuries (no doubt because it is relatively easy to prove), and these are not trivial. To injure people in pursuit of the chimera of zero-COVID when 80% of people never have symptoms would be highly unethical.

Propaganda should not have a place in medicine …

Vaccine Promotion

Politicians, governments and mainstream media have a scandalous record of magical thinking over vaccines: it is always easy to ignore or gaslight those who have been harmed, and to blame the unvaccinated for the vaccinated catching the disease. If the government makes claims about the safety and effectiveness of products which are not true or have not been established it will be hugely culpable. Propaganda should not have a place in medicine and the government would do well to exercise discretion irrespective of whether products have been licensed or not. The fact is that any COVID-19 vaccine products which hit the market in the next decade, let alone the next few months, will not have been adequately tested.

… no one should make false claims either in favour or against products, but if you legislate against people criticising them then you most certainly have something to hide.

I repeat my comment under ‘Civil liability and immunity’:

“Ultimately, the government shelters legally behind the principle of informed consent which leaves the onus on the patient or their guardian, but needs to entail that it is genuinely informed (including all the risks and shortcomings of the product as is provided in the Montgomery ruling). It is further prejudicial if scorn and loathing are heaped on anyone who is not sure whether to comply (for instance the several derogatory comments made the Prime Minister about “anti-vaxxers”, or pronouncements by the WHO about the “vaccine hesitant” being a threat to global health) which is devoid of intellectual merit, quite outside the spirit of freedom of choice or the recommendations of the recent Cumberlege review, which considered instances where injured patients were subjected to bullying tactics. This fails to recognise the rights of the patient. It also undermines the rights of the patient if they are expected to be vaccinated to protect someone other than themselves. It is not only a dubious principle it may well be that it is in the interests of children, for example, to acquire natural immunity, particularly if the virulence of the disease retreats to the level of the common cold (which seems entirely likely).”

If the government want to maintain a lower standard of ethics than informing the public of the risks and shortcomings of the products when promoting them in the media this does not reflect well on its intentions. Even asking the question does not reflect well.

Further, if the government wants to suppress criticism of vaccine products in either the mainstream media or social media on a generic basis this does not speak well of its good faith. Of course, it goes without saying that no one should make false claims either in favour or against products, but if you legislate against people criticising them then you most certainly have something to hide.

What we could do better

I am satisfied with the space allocated to comment, but I am dissatisfied with what I have been asked to comment upon and the overall context of a government acting outside normal constraints (and even perhaps outside its extended remit through the Coronavirus Act). It remains to be seen whether the government is capable of listening at this late stage to any well-founded criticism, or whether it will just bludgeon on regardless.

Response to the British Government Proposal to Roll Out A COVD-19 Vaccine Before Christmas

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.