Vaccination success is about collaboration not capitalism

by David Wrigley

The prime minister's remark about market forces delivering the COVID vaccine overlooks the hard work involved

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 29 March 2021
david wrigley

The success of the vaccine programme has never been about greed, nor about capitalism.

It has been about collaboration, determination and expertise coupled with extremely hard work from scientists, doctors, healthcare professionals, local volunteers and of course the government.

Such a flippant comment by the prime minster threatens to undermine the hundreds of thousands of hours devoted to beating this virus, plus the people and investment that have given us the ability to say that we have now vaccinated over half the UK’s population.

This is a phenomenal result and it’s plain to see that it would never have been achieved without dedicated and hard-working people at every level, in the NHS and beyond.

From the doctors, nurses and others who are administering the vaccine, through to the clerical staff who are managing the appointments, the volunteers who are managing the queues and the car parks, and the statisticians who are collating the data, the story of the vaccine is one that everyone in the UK has a right to be proud of.

Even just the task of securing the vaccines that the UK needed took an army of expertise. The government’s UK Vaccine Taskforce had the unenviable role of spread-betting on which of the vaccines in development it would bid for.

Recruiting, organising and managing hundreds of thousands of volunteers for clinical trials is a job that usually takes pharmaceutical companies years to achieve, but we managed it in just a few months.

This level of participation from people across the country, to pull together for a common purpose, has nothing to do with making money and everything to do with altruism.

The research scientists, working day and night to deliver on the early promise of the data, were driven as much by the greater good as they were by their wages, and at AstraZeneca and Pfizer, scientists were queuing up to take these roles so that the process could be accelerated exponentially.

In Jonathan Van Tam and Chris Whitty, we have experienced doctors who ensured that the science led the decision-making, which supported the regulators to approve the two vaccines we are now using, in record time.

Once those vaccine vials came off the production line, it was the healthcare professionals’ turn to make a difference in this race to unlock our country, hopefully give us back our freedoms and most importantly, save the lives of our most vulnerable members of society.

Up and down the country, doctors have vaccinated 30 million people with their first dose and more than three and a half million have now had their second dose too.

The job of ‘getting jabs into arms’ is a story of success, of determination and most importantly of partnership. Throughout the process, strong effective partnerships have provided results.

With the vaccine programme, we have seen what can happen when doctors and their colleagues are given the flexibility to lead, partnered by a trusting Government and with a national emergency to tackle.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic for people to see how vital this collaboration can be, but now it’s happened, we hope that any planning for the future takes this into account.

Its doctors who know their communities and patients best – let them share that expertise and draw on their experiences so that we are better-prepared the next time this happens.

This isn’t just a question of language used, or academic debate – the lessons we learn from this pandemic will inform how we deliver healthcare for years to come.

David Wrigley is BMA deputy council chair