“We need a locally run & effective public sector system of Find, Test, Trace, Isolate & Support, to replace the absurdly inefficient & ineffective but highly profitable Serco operation.”Roy Wilkes, ZeroCovid.UK
Speaking on the BBC Breakfast show this week, Prof Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, has warned of a third wave of Covid this summer, as restrictions are eased while many adults are still not immunised. He explained that the UK is still “vulnerable” and suggested that dates for easing restrictions may need adjusting. Johnson himself has acknowledged that there will be a third wave of the disease, but added, in defiance of many of his own advisers, that “there is nothing in the data to suggest that the next step in easing lockdown cannot go ahead as planned.”
A third wave will mean more deaths, especially among insecure low paid workers, who simply cannot afford to self isolate, and their relatives. It will also mean more people suffering from long Covid, which already afflicts over a million people in the UK, including thousands of children.
Thanks to an extraordinary effort by local public sector health authorities (in stark contrast to the privatised test and trace fiasco last summer), over 30 million adults in the UK have now been vaccinated, with over 9 million receiving two doses. The partial lockdown that has been in force since early January has also had a significant impact: the number of people testing positive for Covid has fallen to below 2 500 per day, and daily deaths are now below 40.
But placing all of our eggs in the vaccination basket is still an irresponsible gamble with all of our lives. Zero Covid UK has always said that relying on a vaccine while allowing the virus to circulate freely is an open invitation to viral mutation. We now know that the 501Y.V2 variant originating in South Africa is partially resistant to both AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. There are 44 confirmed cases of the variant, mostly in South London. The entire population of the affected boroughs, a total of 650 000 people, are being called in for testing in order to try and suppress transmission of this worrying variant.
None of us are safe until we are all safe. The virus is still prevalent in many countries, particularly Brazil and India, but increasingly across Europe as well. There will be new variants, and some of them will be even more resistant to vaccines than 501Y.V2 is. Campaigns for vaccine equity are therefore more important than ever. Jonas Salk, who discovered the polio vaccine, refused to patent it, arguing that it would be like wanting to “patent the sun”. Today’s pharmaceutical corporations have no such qualms, and would happily patent the air we breathe if they could turn a profit from it. The for-profit Pfizer vaccine is beyond the reach of many in the Global South, and even AstraZeneca is charging African countries more than double the price being paid in Europe.
But the most important lesson of 501Y.V2 is that vaccination is not a magic bullet to get us out of the Covid crisis. Vaccines must form part of an elimination strategy, they cannot replace such a strategy. We will still need to close schools and non-essential workplaces when necessary to contain community transmission. And above all, we need a locally run and effective public sector system of Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (FTTIS), to replace the absurdly inefficient and ineffective but highly profitable Serco operation that the Johnson government has lumbered us with. FTTIS is now a major campaigning priority for Zero Covid, and we will be fully supporting the Day of Action on 27th April called by We Own It to demand that the test and trace contract, which expires on 15th May, must be taken off Serco and handed to fully funded local public health authorities.
The support component of FTTIS is crucial. Covid has hit the poorest sections of our community the hardest, Black and Asian communities hardest of all, and has spread the most among low paid insecure workers who cannot afford to self isolate. Full financial and social support must be provided for everyone who tests positive, otherwise there is literally no point tracing and testing people.
In line with its over reliance on vaccination as the solution to Covid, the government is now trialing “vaccine passports” as another opportunity for corporate money-grabbing. There are serious civil liberties concerns over what many see as a back-door excuse for introducing ID cards. And ironically, vaccine passports may well discourage many people from getting vaccinated, for example migrants who are concerned about how the scheme might be used against them.
Despite a death toll of 130 000 and a per capita death rate higher even than the USA or Brazil, the Johnson government is currently enjoying a “vaccine bounce” in popularity, as its “road map” out of lockdown unfolds. This bounce may be very short lived however, particularly if a vaccine resistant variant turns the inevitable third wave into an unmitigated catastrophe. A zero Covid strategy is needed now more than ever.
- ZeroCovid.UK are part of an international conference this Saturday (24 April) from 13.00-17.00 on urgent issues such as campaigning against vaccine nationalism & for health solidarity across borders. Information & register at https://zerocovid.uk/event/zero-covid-an-international-movement/