Vaccines are our route out of this misery — surely that is a truth we can all handle

Does Taoiseach Micheál Martin think we can only handle the truth when it’s bad news? Asks John Dolan in his weekly column 
Vaccines are our route out of this misery — surely that is a truth we can all handle

The Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Picture Dan Linehan

“YOU can’t handle the truth!”

That famous line — more a machine-gunning of words, really — has become one of the most famous in film history.

Delivered by Jack Nicholson’s army character in A Few Good Men, it captures the moment his mask slipped in a courtroom as he was grilled by a youthful lawyer, played by Tom Cruise. He goes on to berate his inquisitor: “I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom... and my existence saves lives!”

I imagine our Taoiseach Micheál Martin would empathise with that. His life and career will be defined by these trying times, and his ultimate responsibility — his burden — is to save lives in a pandemic, despite great cost to many people across the country.

He certainly thinks we can handle the truth when it comes to a relentless flow of bad news.

Mr Martin is not afraid to tell us to lockdown, and to stay locked down for months on end, even though we are getting more weary and stressed as each day passes.

He is not afraid to warn us the virus will still be with us in the summer; heck, we’ve even heard warnings from the government that next Christmas is in jeopardy!

It’s an admirable trait, I guess. Treating us like grown-ups, not trying to polish the brown stuff. But I wonder why the Taoiseach thinks we are all so afraid to hear good news — specifically, relating to the vaccines. Why has he constantly failed to accentuate the many positives from them?

Does he think we can only handle the truth when it’s bad news?

It’s not as though there has been nothing to celebrate on the vaccines front. Quite the reverse. It has been an almost constant flow of good news for months.

One study after another suggests all the vaccines approved are doing their job, with more arriving on the scene in the months ahead.

Soon, we will be positively swimming in wonderful, effective, and — a word I wouldn’t have dreamed of using a year ago — efficacious vaccines. And, despite initial supply issues, there will be plenty to go round, even in the European Union, which took control of the bloc’s vaccine strategy then proceeded to make a right hames of it.

No matter. Nations ahead of us on that front are shining beacons of positivity. Studies in Israel, the U.S and UK tick all the boxes.

Does the vaccine prevent people from contracting Covid-19? Apparently.

Does it prevent people from transmitting the virus to others? Apparently.

Does it prevent people who do contract Covid-19 from getting seriously ill? Apparently.

Does it prevent people who do contract the virus from requiring hospitalisation, and ICU care, and from dying? Yes, yes, and yes!

The studies from the trials that showed the efficacy of the vaccines appear to be translating into effectiveness in millions of people across the planet.

The vaccines are working.

This is remarkable. A year ago, today, the World Health Organisation reported that the number of Covid-19 cases outside China had exceeded the number in China for the first time. “We’re at a decisive point,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

A year on, and we are talking about several vaccines already blotting out the threat, and life soon returning to some normality.

You would think our Taoiseach would want to at least mention this to a worried, fretful nation?

I fear the media also gets caughts up in the bad news cycle at times. When two separate UK studies this week showed the Pfizer vaccine reduces the risk of being infected by more than 70% after a first dose, and by 85% after the second dose, it should have been shouted from the rooftops at a time when this country was in the doldrums.

When it did get a mention on RTÉ News, it came with the rather churlish and unnecessary addendum that the UK’s decision to lengthen the delay between the two jabs, in order to protect more people more quickly, had still not been thoroughly tested.

Is that why we are afraid to embrace this good news? Because we fear it will be admitting the UK has done something right in Covid-19 for once? Or we will be seen to be somehow anti-EU?

Of course, we don’t want to get carried away.

The variants are a concern, although all the suggestions and studies thus far show the vaccines will cover them too.

And if a variant does sidestep a vaccine, scientists seem pretty confident they can make the necessary alterations to zap that too, within a matter of months.

The UK are already talking about a revised jab for the elderly and vulnerable at the end of the year — a sign we may be winning the battle against the virus, but the war may not yet be over.

But nothing I have seen so far suggests anything but that we have this virus on the run.

We may not eradicate it from the planet for a few years, but we damn well should be looking optimistically at a semblance of normality here by the summer.

Reasons to be cheerful? Yes.

Someone really ought to tell our Taoiseach.

French President Emmanuel Macron. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)

YOU heard it here first...

Three weeks ago on this page, I warned that careless talk by EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Emmanuel Macron could end up costing lives.

They raised questions about the safety and effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite scientific evidence stating otherwise.

Of course, at the heart of the row was the fact AstraZeneca had told the EU it was reducing its supply of the vaccine — and perhaps the fact it is UK-made didn’t endear it to the pair either.

Such groundless jab-bering would put off large swathes of people from having the jab, I warned at the time.

This week, the chickens came home to roost, when it emerged many in Germany and France are refusing the AstraZeneca jab.

Only 150,000 of 1.5million doses had been used in Germany. In Berlin, centres that only offer the AstraZeneca jab say just 200 turned up of 3,800 appointments in one day. City mayor, Michael Muller, threatened to send people to the back of the vaccine queue if they refuse it in favour of the Pfizer one.

In France, health workers have refused the AstraZeneca jab after Macron’s ludicrous jibe that it was “quasi-effective”.

This bout of vaccine nationalism will prove costly as those nations try to increase their roll-out.

Here in Ireland, our National Immunisation Advisory Committee approved AstraZeneca for all ages, then did a U-turn and said it would not be given to over-65s, citing lack of testing on that age group.

A few days later, the World Health Organisation backed the vaccine for over 65s, adding fuel to the theory that EU countries were playing politics.

There is a serious point here. Countries require a vaccine take-up of around 75% to ensure herd immunity against Covid-19. If folk in France and Germany have been put off the jab by their leaders’ careless talk, that will make that target near impossible to meet.

I repeat: Who needs anti-vaxxers and social media disinformation scare tactics, when you have folk like Macron and von der Leyen doing their jobs for them?

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