A news story today shows just how arbitrary much of history is. At the height of the Covid pandemic the UK government, suffering the worst death rate in Europe, gambled big on developing a vaccine quickly. This was very much something that suited the personality of the Prime Minister. Boris Johnson is notorious for a lack of attention to detail and for wanting to have his cake and eat it. A vaccine must have appeared to him to be a magic cure for his Covid problem.

Gambles sometimes pay off, and this one has given him some unexpected benefits. Not only did an effective vaccine get delivered in a very short time, the roll out also got off to a good start. In the meantime, the European Union’s similar programme didn’t come in so quickly. This meant that it was a double payout. It both countered the internal bungling of the day to day handling of the virus and allowed some points to be scored at the expense of the EU.

And then just to top things off, the EU managed to mishandle their response to the situation by appearing to be demanding that they have a share of the UK’s order of vaccine when theirs was delayed. They backed down pretty quickly, but not quickly enough to avoid a PR hit.

The interesting thing to me was just how much luck the UK government has had. Working in product development, including in the pharmaceutical sector, I’m only too aware of how even the simplest project can sometimes go wrong. Even now, the vaccine production is still at effectively the scale up stage and there is still scope for delays and hold ups in production. It is not inconceivable that within the next couple of months the UK vaccination programme will need to lean on EU based production to keep going.

The outlook is in fact very hard to predict. Production simply won’t be able to keep up with demand for the next few months and there are bound to be stories of shortages and failures to deliver. The news hounds will try and make as many of these into scandals of one kind or another, preferably with a juicy villain in the mix somewhere. I doubt many national governments will escape some bad press at some stage, and most will end up arguing with the pharma companies they have contracts with.

But it looks like, by a fluke, the Brexiters have finally got something that they can plausibly claim as a win over the EU. I doubt they’ll get many more.

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