BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

A RACE AGAINST TIME- COVID VARIANT

December 31, 2020 Dana Lewis Season 2 Episode 27
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
A RACE AGAINST TIME- COVID VARIANT
Chapters
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
A RACE AGAINST TIME- COVID VARIANT
Dec 31, 2020 Season 2 Episode 27
Dana Lewis

This week in America, The UK, and in Europe record numbers of Covid-19 cases as hospitals struggle to treat the sick.
A new vaccine has been approved in The Uk, that makes 3 vaccines not including Russia and China.  But, is this new variant of Covid-19 out pacing the vaccine?

We talk to two medical experts about what to expect and the dangers of this pandemic as we race to distribute vaccines. 

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding is an American public health scientist in Washington, and in Britain Dr. Paul Hunter is a professor of medicine at East Anglia Univ. and both talk at length with Back Story Host Dana Lewis in London.

Show Notes Transcript

This week in America, The UK, and in Europe record numbers of Covid-19 cases as hospitals struggle to treat the sick.
A new vaccine has been approved in The Uk, that makes 3 vaccines not including Russia and China.  But, is this new variant of Covid-19 out pacing the vaccine?

We talk to two medical experts about what to expect and the dangers of this pandemic as we race to distribute vaccines. 

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding is an American public health scientist in Washington, and in Britain Dr. Paul Hunter is a professor of medicine at East Anglia Univ. and both talk at length with Back Story Host Dana Lewis in London.

Speaker 1:

And as soon as he said that, you know , I felt, actually felt physically sick because that meant that this, you know, even with it a lockdown , like if we'd continued the November lockdown, we would almost certainly have continued to have , uh, increasing numbers of cases, increasing number of hospitalizations and increasing numbers of deaths. And

Speaker 2:

By the way, we are seeing those now.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely. Yes, yes. Yeah. And so it was extraordinarily worrying.

Speaker 3:

Hi everyone. And welcome to another edition of backstory. I'm Dana Lewis. I started this podcast in the spring under lockdown, and it's been a fantastic outlet to interview and hear some amazing people. This is our last podcast of 2020 we're under lockdown in London. So I guess it ends as it started tonight is new year's and hopefully 2021 is a better year for everyone as we speak. My kids will not be going back to school in London this week, because school openings are delayed. Hospitals are overwhelmed here and in America, and in other parts of Europe, the COVID 19 virus has been relentless. And now it is adapting and becoming more dangerous because then you variant makes it spread faster. We're talking about 70% faster. According to the experts this week, Oxford AstraZeneca announced they have been approved as a vaccine. The third big vaccine after Pfizer's and Medina . This one is easier to transport, cheaper to buy. But as this new variant of COVID-19 spreading in the UK, in Europe and Canada in the U S now resistant to vaccines, well , they say probably not, but we can tell you behind the scenes tests are being carried out at government labs. And we will know more in a couple of weeks, but we are in a race say experts to get the pandemic under control with vaccines before this virus mutates again. And it will on this backstory, we speak to a professor of medicine, Dr. Paul Hunter here in the UK. He's a virologist, but first we go to the U S and an epidemiologist who has been publicly critical of the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic. There's been a lot of people that have been critical, which by the way, and by any estimation was downplayed politically by Trump to win an election. He lost the election and the virus just keeps on coming.

Speaker 2:

All right, joining me now from Washington is Dr. Eric Fingal Dean, who is an epidemiologist, a health economist , uh , he's well known . He does a lot of television by the way. And , uh, Eric, you know, you appeared in this ad , um, really against , uh , president Trump with a lot of other healthcare , uh , people, doctors who were really concerned about the pace , uh, of the spread of COVID-19 in the United States as most people are.

Speaker 4:

Why did you do that, ed ? Well, I felt like , um, public policy around public health has really failed in terms of leadership in leading the country. And so much of what we know about , um , masks. So much of what we know about lockdowns so much. What we know about testing content tracing being early to stop the pandemic. So many public health recommendations were ignored. And literally we've never been in a situation where , um, an election came down to life and death for thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people as, as quickly, I'm unfolding , um, the last few months and into the coming months. So I felt really compelled as a public health scientist to really act and advocate.

Speaker 2:

I'm glad you acted with good conscience. And , but why do you think that president Trump ignored kind of that side of the discussion to a large degree in downplayed the virus constantly saying we're rounding a corner. The vaccines are coming, you know, from the moment this started breaking out in the United States, he , he was trying to close the door and say, we have it under control and it's going away. Why?

Speaker 4:

Right. Well, it's the key thing for his reelection . He thought according to a lot of strategists is that the economy must be booming. As long as the economy is booming, that was his path to reelection . And obviously the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a huge monkey wrench that given all the economic damage that he has done. And, and he thought early on that, the longer, he just tried to downplay it, ignore it. Just trying to tell people it's a hoax that you would somehow dampen people's anxiety. And again, not cause people to get worried and therefore change your behaviors and hurt the economy. Can you tell him that he could win in that way for his reelection, but the virus, the virus is , will do its virus thing. It does not care about political beliefs whatsoever. It will transmit at every single opportunity that you get it to transmit, whether it's airborne, whether it's not wearing masks, whether it's not this isn't seen , whether they're not taking any public health precautions, not testing conduct, Tracy , this is why the virus really agnostics the politics and that kind of dimension a trunk , just his mindset just could not deal with this pandemic.

Speaker 2:

All right. It's important timeframe in how long this virus is led to run loose in some regard, is it not? Because now that enters us into this new conversation about a new variant, which I want to ask you about, but the longer this virus is around the , the more it's going to change and adapt and , and become vaccine resilient. Is it not

Speaker 4:

Well rag vaccine resiliency, vaccine escape is a little bit more tricky. Uh , we don't think that this will escape the vaccine, but you are right that the longer this virus circulates in nature, that he has a host or reservoir of whether it's humans or animals to replicate pass on. And in these hosts on mutate, the longer that keeps happening, the more and more of these mutations, these chanced unlucky mutations that we will see. And so this is why we have to really eradicate zero COVID, shouldn't be the goal because with zero COVID, we can eradicate it for good and return to complete normal. But with this semi, you know , uh , lockdown semi , uh, keep the embers, as long as it's almost gone, you know, that's half Willy nilly approach or not end this virus and will allow it to become endemic for longterm and mutates more and more forms. And we just cannot afford that

Speaker 2:

Here in the United Kingdom, but also where you are in the United States, that does appear to be the pro the approach though, as long as the hospitals can deal with the inflow of patients, then you kind of release some of the restrictions, let businesses open again and movie theaters and Cylons , and then the moment it looks like they're about to be overwhelmed. Again, they start locking down and that's what we're, we're experiencing here in London , uh , because of this new development with the virus, they are locking down and starting to get pretty panicked, but they're never going for what you talk about this kind of zero approach to the virus .

Speaker 4:

Yeah. My best analogy is, look, if you are owner with Jurassic park and you know, you've almost eliminated all the velociraptors , um, but welcome to the park. Kids come to the park. No one's gonna come to the park and same with, if it was a zoo, the full economic demand and marginal propensity to consume, and all of these things, economics, you will not return until you have completely eliminated that spiral . This virus is just that pernicious , uh , just that easy way to , um, basically transmit that it will really stall out our economic development in so many different ways and hurt our children in so many ways. So a little bit of the vaccine strategy, which I cannot , you know , emphasize is so important, but isn't coming fast enough for given the pace of inoculations zero COVID should be the goal and really, truly stamp it out. So that's never a menace to us. Again, you really have to aim for that . And with the hospital criteria, it's so dumb. Look, if that was the criteria for everything, you know what? You don't need to wear helmets, a hospital beds they're not full, you don't need , uh , you know, seatbelt laws or hospital beds are not full. That's not how public health works. You reduce risk every single way you can. And this is the friends of the same reason. Um, I think secondhand smoke is it is a good analogy. Second hand smoke, extra hurts and causes cancer and heart disease and deaths and other people, right? That's why it's banded restaurants and bars and this, and this hurting other people. This, we have to take this prevention model and the community model truly we need to, in order to in guarantee economic development, we need to stop this virus for good. And we need to think of the collective good and not just think of, Oh, are the hospital beds full? We're not really. We really have to focus on zero COVID as the goal.

Speaker 2:

How concerned are you about this new variant that they've traced back to at least starting here in the United Kingdom, especially in the South East and around London, where I am to September, they think , um, and it has quote unquote by the government taken off. How concerned are you? Is this just another variant in some 4,000 variants? Or would you say, no, this is a lot more significant.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, we've had a lot of variants , but this is significant given that the number of mutations is accumulated is huge. It's like a huge jump step up from the average rate of mutation. And it's in the spike protein and in the binding domains, which means it can likely modify how this virus functions and this increased transmissibility anywhere between 50 and 70% is worrisome. That said it doesn't change how we, our public guidelines are. We know how to stop this virus. It's basically wear masks , take distance precautions, but that's not enough to take airborne precautions because this is the airborne virus and hence ventilate and do all these , uh , contesting contracts racing . All of these things don't change. These strategies still work. The problem is this virus just move so much faster. If these public health containment measures are not in place and no one wants to lock down, I don't want to lock down. No one wants to lock down . That's a last resort, but unless we can do all these proper public health things, lockdown is the only way to go. And obviously that hurts all a lot of people. So it doesn't change in a percent , uh, what we should be doing, that it just changes the urgency. And I think the increased risk of transmission in children, that speculation also increases the urgency that if we want our kids to go back to school in the near future, we really have to get this under control .

Speaker 2:

All right . That's what I want to ask you about, because up until now, it's been gauged here in another parts of the United States that it's more important to keep schools open than it is to keep kids away from COVID because they don't generally get a lot of big reactions to it or, or they're they're asymptomatic. Uh , but no doubt it is spreading amongst kids. And this new variant appears to be based on initial reports. And I understand studies are still going on and you're you're, you don't have firsthand studies , uh , in front of you right now, but what do you think, how do you interpret that data that you're starting to see about its ability to spread with kids? And what does that mean to , to school openings, which are just around the corner,

Speaker 4:

Right? And I think this is one of the factors that really worries me because this transmissibility people have downplayed it in children for the longest time. Now, granted children don't die at a high rate, but they do get sick and do get hospitalized. And some have , of course, unfortunately do die, but this is only more important for our kids, because if it is true, if it is preliminary, data is true that this elevates the transmission risk among kids to the level of Advil, which is what they're speculating. This means that children are efficient vectors as adults. And that means schools will become much more dangerous of a place. Now, obviously of all the things to open, the last things to close down should be schools. And so I would rather close down bars and restaurants before it closed schools, but this really changed the ball game around schools. And this emphasizes that stopping the virus, ultimately stopping the virus through vaccinations or through these other public health container measures , Texas tech testing conduct, raising mass ventilation, airport precautions. It just takes on a level of urgency. I cannot emphasize enough and people are just also ignoring the fact that it's airborne this wash . Your hands is important in the early days, but I think wash your hands. It's still important, but not nearly as important as ventilate and not nearly as important as you know , um , using , um, advanced Merv 13 filters germicidal UV for, for , for office buildings and , um , newer schools, all these things take on a new level of urgency, unfortunately. And if so, if this variant holds out true, which is now detected in like dozens of countries worldwide, it is very worrisome for our kids going back to school

Speaker 2:

More widespread than we realize because, Oh, Kay's very, very good at analyzing like a hundred times better at , at doing genome sequencing and , and studying the development of the , of the virus. Do you think that there's just a lot of other countries that just haven't recognized how widespread this is already in their populations?

Speaker 4:

Yeah, absolutely. And remember the old adage, no testing, no cases, no pandemic. Well in this , uh, situation, it's no genomic sequencing new, no mutations, no new variants . It's, it's this. And it's a very backwards, you know, see , you know, you will hear no evil, but is there a truly evil , um, we don't know. And the us is ranked number 43 in the world in terms of percentage of total cases sequenced the virus. Okay. The sequence. So we're really behind the ball game here and we think it could already be behind. Remember in the spring, we had discovered that we were two months behind identification of the early Washington state cases because we didn't, we lacking lacking testing and you know , January, February. So this is the worry that it's already here. It's already circulating. Now it's not more deadly or , um, you know, virulent than the previous drains . But again, what's what makes this fire so unique is that it doesn't kill everyone really quickly. Because if you do like a Bola with 50% mortality, this fires wouldn't take over the world. It spreads pernicious Lilly , heart kills a lot of people, but also harmlessly passes through many. And this bad things are many because of is contagious. This is what gives it the pernicious property to take on the world as a pandemic. So we have to stop it and we have to take a whole, no prisoner, zero a zero COVID because those countries that have New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, China, and Vietnam, they've enjoyed hundreds of days of no community transmissions or for the most part and all and no deaths . And they're having concerts sports games do it. Life is basically returned to normal and they have not paid any further price beyond the initial lockdown period, but we are constantly paying it again and again, with multi-trillion dollar relief bills that we can't afford on the longterm , we have to do it and we have to stop it. Now,

Speaker 2:

Editorial in the garden by an Anthony. Who's a professor of global health and sustainable development at university college here in London , um, says don't blame the new development with the virus for where we are. He says the prime minister's repeated dithering delays and seeming inability to make unpopular decisions have led Britain to one of the worst death rates in the world. We can only hope that we're not in that position by Easter. He says, there's a lot of parallels between what's happened in Britain and what has happened under president Trump.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, absolutely. And I agree the most of the global cases, hospitalizations and deaths are not due to the new, very new, very is still a small minority of the total viruses that circulating . And you know , it really is a show of how big the difference good leadership makes. Um, in New Zealand, just Cinda art and Shirley leadership allowed to huge move fast and take the precautionary principle. Taiwan did the same thing as well. Um, Taiwan's vice-president is actually a Johns Hopkins trained epidemiologist . They move fast. They, you know, they do blink when it came to , uh , how bad this could be. They knew that they had to get under control and that takes leadership decisiveness. If you want to be sure, 100% sure before you act, you will be too late as a who immersions director. Mike Ryan said, this is why good leadership in these times of crisis makes all the difference. This is not like a hurricane that's already blown through. This is an active storm. That's still raging and the faster you can stop it, the faster you can enjoy life again.

Speaker 2:

Last question to you, what is the risk? And I don't want to over dramatize it, but it seems to me in everything that I've read, that you've already talked about, the new variant changing, somewhat the development of the spike protein, which is what the vaccines are designed to cling on to an attack. If we did there to use somebody else's words again, if this goes on with us, just kind of letting the steam out of the lockdowns and then locking down a bit more and then letting it run again, run hot. Isn't there a danger that these vaccines that we need so badly at a certain point will get outpaced by COVID-19, which is constantly adapting to its environment.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, it's this, this coronavirus , it's not as fast mutating as say the flu, but it does mutate over time. And the longer we let it linger, especially for many, many years there be vaccine escape. To some degree, it won't be, you know, right now say maternal adviser, a 95% efficacy. It won't be that it drops to zero, but it could drop a significant percentages. The more mutations it has now, we're doing lab studies right now to show how much , um, the, our antibodies, the resistance that we develop from this vaccine will , uh , attack this new variant . And some people say probably won't affect much at most, a few percentage points dropped , but the longer we let it roam free, the more it will pick up these resistance. And I use the word resistance because it's slightly not exactly the slightly akin to antibiotic resistance, right? The , you use more ways to attack it. Especially certain drugs like monoclonal antibodies, which people speculate it could be use of the monoclonal antibodies in the immunocompromised person, but the more you attack the virus, the more it will try and ways to beach and the more time and more bodies in which you can live for a while to mutate the more, the greater, the risk that this could happen. And that is what we ultimately don't want. Now, granted, we can modify the MRD vaccines pretty quickly. We had this vaccine, we are administering now back in February, we can synthesize pretty fast, but the trials would take so long and take so much effort and time, and we will lose a lot of cases. And we'll go through more of these openings. Lockdowns at the pandemic is not control. We have to stop it now. And the fact scene thing, you know, it's a more of a multi-year thing. If it becomes a significant vaccine escape, but that should not be a consideration right now consideration right now is we have to stop it for a whole collective of public health, children's educational and economic reasons. And long-term , if we do not stop it in 2021, 2022, we let it keep roaming. Then the vaccine escape will really catch up with us in a few years. And that's what we ultimately definitely want to avoid as well.

Speaker 2:

All right , Dr. Eric, figgle ding . Very good to talk to you and , uh , an epidemiologist and health economist, and I will confess, I've been trying to get him for more than a week. He's he's a busy guy and in high demand. So we really appreciate your time.

Speaker 4:

Thank you. Best wishes. Thank you, sir.

Speaker 2:

All right , let's go to Norritch . Um, England in East Anglia, the North school of medicine , uh , is at the university of East Anglia and Dr. Paul Hunter , uh, is a professor in medicine. Hi, Paul. Hello. Good afternoon. You are a virologist. Yeah, my medical specialty.

Speaker 1:

I graduated in medicine, then I specialized in medical, microbiology and virology, but a lot of my , uh , career has been , um, are also involved in , uh, public health aspects of infectious disease.

Speaker 2:

You probably never thought we would be in this situation.

Speaker 1:

Um, well actually one of our medical students, Amanda , my old medical students , uh, sent me an email a couple of months back saying he can remember a lecture that I gave about 10, 15 years ago now where I was predicting pretty much that we would have something like this at some time in there in , uh , um, uh, uh , working career . So , uh, it's one thing to predict the one was expecting.

Speaker 2:

I think that predicted it's quite another one to face it. And I mean, actually, did you really believe that when you kind of looked statistically and said, yeah, well , I mean, we're probably do every century or something . Yeah ,

Speaker 1:

No, absolutely. Because , um, you know, we, for most of my professional career, we've been experiencing one or two what's called emerging infectious disease threats a year. And it was only really a matter of time before we had a big one like this. I mean, we've had in the last few years, we've had , um, Ebola in West Africa, Zika virus in South America , uh, avian, influenza, swine flu, all sorts of other threats, SARS and MERS. And so they , they come about once one or two a year on average. And it was only a matter of time before we had one as big as this. And as the world health organization , um, said a couple of days ago, you know, this might not actually be the big one where they're full of good news. Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

So it may not actually be the big one because they're expecting something that's much stronger than this virus.

Speaker 1:

Well, be the case. I mean, we're heading for about 2 million deaths totally so far. Um, with this pandemic and , um, Spanish flu, there was, I think I'm writing saying there was something like 50 million deaths worldwide and , um, it it's , uh, possibly only a matter of time before we gain , we have something that can do offs this , but hopefully

Speaker 2:

Like we , we seem so utterly ill prepared for all of it. Look, as we speak, let's start off on a positive app . Oxford AstraZeneca has announced now that their vaccine has been approved. So we have yet another big vaccine out of the, I guess, out of three big ones now , um , would you take it, do you think this is great news or

Speaker 1:

I think it is, I think the , um, they're the three main vaccines at the moment and , uh , for the West at least, but there are others, there's the Russian Sputnik vaccine and China's got it . Seven vaccine , um, which is , um, again is slightly different to , uh , the , so the , uh , Emma RNA vaccines for Pfizer Medina and the add no virus vector vaccine ,

Speaker 2:

This one different than the Pfizer and the Madonna

Speaker 1:

It's it's, it's delivered within a preexisting virus, which is for the Oxford one, it's a chimpanzee virus and that gets into the cells and then the DNA is released. And then the , um, uh, then that cell manufacturers that spike protein, which is what you're trying to gender the , um , immunity to , um , the Pfizer and Medina vaccine . So it's called MRN a vaccine. So essentially what you're doing is injecting messenger RNA into , um, uh, uh, little packages that then get taken up and then get replicated into, into the protein. And so ultimately the end, the end result is, is, is the same, but they , uh, they, there are many different , um , issues in how you handle these different vaccines. Certainly.

Speaker 2:

I don't know many mainstream people that don't have concerns about the safety of the vaccines, even traditional people that generally say, yeah, you know, vaccines are fine. They give them to their kids. These have been rolled out so quickly in such a compressed period of time. I mean, there, there are still a lot of concerns with some pretty sober people. I mean, these are not anti-vaxxers, but just generally people who are worried about, you know, do you take it or do you wait awhile ?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I mean, I, I, I've got no hesitation, you know, I'm just desperately looking to the opportunity to have my shots, which the last time I looked might not be till April may. Um, although with the Oxford vaccine coming out, I think that, I mean , this issue about the speed is, is that these have got to effectively got to market. Um, when you realize what the reasons for the delays are normally, then it becomes , um, less frightening. The , the issue with most vaccines is that when you're developing a new vaccine, so any disease, the first thing is you never sure it's going to work. So what happens is that you persuade somebody to fund your initial research, to show that you can develop a vaccine and that may be, and then go on to show that it works possibly an animal experiments. And , um, and then once you've got those, you write those up and you then go through another round of persuading, somebody to fund the phase one studies , uh, which if they're successful, you fund the second phase two studies. And , and the other thing is that for most , uh, infectious diseases that you're trying to develop , uh , vaccines to you don't have actually that much disease around. So the , even when you do get to phase three trials, it takes a long time to accumulate enough cases in your study for you to be able to judge the efficacy of the vaccine what's happened here is that effectively all these manufacturers, all these vaccine producers were funded up front for the whole thing. They , um, so they didn't, once they'd completed the phase one studies, they could, they didn't then have to go begging for money to do the next bit. And also because of , uh, that they were able to , um, overlap the different studies. So that as soon as you've got preliminary data, showing that phase, once it's safe, you can then , uh, pretty much quickly go onto the phase two studies and so on. So, so all the steps have been gone through,

Speaker 2:

Right, in saying that with the Oxford AstraZeneca and maybe with the others too, that because we're in the middle of a pandemic and especially in the United Kingdom where you have a national healthcare system. Yes , they were, they were very quick in getting it out to people, having the right people, take it for their studies and being able to get those results back .

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And , and importantly, having those right people actually get sick. Um, and you, because, you know, you only know that the vaccine has worked once people start getting sick in your study. And then what happens is the once you've got enough people who have actually developed the disease, you break the code and see whether or not the people who've developed the disease have been in, have had the vaccine or a placebo. And , um, and that's why that phase three studies, which typically can take several years to complete, have been , um , able to got big gut through quite quickly,

Speaker 2:

As we speak, there are a lot of people sick and there are numbers of people sick in America, sick in Europe, United Kingdom , um , very close to leading the death toll in Europe, again , um, this new variant and pull it's really what I wanted to talk to you about. Are you alarmed by the new variant?

Speaker 1:

Oh, desperately. So , um , I can remember one of, one of the days that I will remember most about the epidemic was , uh, in part because it shocked me and I wasn't expecting it was when the prime minister gave his , uh, his , um, presentation about a week a Saturday. What was, it was about a week before Christmas about this,

Speaker 2:

You know , it's not very long ago. It seems in this news cycle, it seems like it was a long time ago. It was just a week before Christmas. And that was 72 hours after he had come out and said it would be inhuman, just create a lockdown through Christmas.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. And , um, and th what he said was that the second sentence was effectively that as far as they can tell, the new variant has an R value of more than 0.4 over the pre-existing variants . Now we've , um, we we're hoping to publish this soon, but we've, we've been looking at how effective the Nash , the November lockdown was. And generally it was pretty effective. It must be said, you know, in terms of suppressing the virus , um, and most regions were able to get down on average to about an R value of 0.7 , um, in for that , for their epidemics.

Speaker 2:

You know , Paul , there's a lot of people that don't understand the R value , especially in America, because it's talked about in news conferences here all the time, but the R value essentially as if it's an R value of one, that means you infect one other person. If it's one and a half, you're inspecting, you're bending silent half, you're passing it on . So it's gotta be below one.

Speaker 1:

It's got to be below one now . So the simple maths was, if our November lockdown was able to get the existing variants down to an R value of 0.7, and this new variant was 0.4, that takes above one. And so what , what essentially that said was that the , that the November lockdown was not sufficient to reverse the increase in this new variant, which is very scary. And that means that, you know , we , um , and as soon as he said that, you know , I felt, actually felt physically sick because that meant that this, you know, even with it , uh , locked down , like if we'd continued the November lockdown, we would almost certainly have continued to have , uh, increasing numbers of cases, increasing number of hospitalizations and increasing numbers of deaths.

Speaker 2:

And by the way, we are seeing those now.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely. Yes, yes. Yeah. And so it was extraordinarily worrying. It means cause we tend to use the term non-pharmaceutical interventions and although for, for these, and they'll they lock downs is , um, it's a sort of a catch-all phrase. The reality is that lockdown is a very, you know, means very different things. You know , it can be just a Pope's restaurants are closed, shops are closed or it could be, everybody has to stay at home. It could mean, you know, and there's a difference between lockdowns with schools open and down ,

Speaker 2:

We're in London and we're in a , we're in a tier four lockdown , which means beauty salons, gyms, all of the main shopping centers, which were open just before Christmas had to be closed, but you can still go to work. You can still , uh , travel on public transit. They say, if you need to, but most people who want money will say that they need to indeed . Um, so it's it's, and you're not allowed to socialize with other households that shut all of that Christmas three household mixing idea that just shut it all down. Do you think that is working now?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And that, that was depressing because actually, although a lot of my colleagues were arguing against having celebrations over Christmas. I was not one of them because I felt that we could, I felt the three , uh, family Christmas , uh, rule could have allowed us to manage Christmas safely , uh, and less of a risk than actually going about our normal daily life , uh, early on in the month. But this new variant of course, just, yeah, I mean, it just , uh, throw out,

Speaker 2:

Do you alarm that beyond the R the replication number ?

Speaker 1:

If we can't stop this disease, if whatever we do shorter vaccination increased . Well, there's a number of things. The first is that forgetting about vaccination at the moment, what this means is that case numbers will increase , um, rapidly, no matter , uh, possibly no matter how strict our lockdowns are. And of course you can't lock downs, can't be ever totally strict. I mean, if we were able to enforce a rule that said, okay, for the next month, nobody at all is allowed to leave their house. Then , uh, the virus would pretty much have disappeared and may well have actually totally disappeared. The problem is that there'd be a lot of people dead from starvation and the water supplies would have stopped working and, and our electricity wouldn't be on and all these other things, which we need to keep us alive. So it's , it's always has to be a balance between how restrictive you, you want to be. And actually, how do you keep people, keep society going , um , at the lockdown and seems to me

Speaker 2:

What balance it seems to me watching this government in Britain, and then also watching the , the Trump. I don't even want to characterize it, but I mean, the Trump tragic tragic comedy , um, that there's, there was this idea of herd immunity in the beginning. And then they started to kind of get into this other system where, you know, they would, they would lift the lid , um , just until hospitals started to see those increase numbers. And they were worried about the hospitals getting overwhelmed, and then they would put it down. Whereas in Asia, the philosophy was very much shut it down, eliminate it , and then reopened . And, and in Western Europe and in America , um, Canada was a bit better where I'm from generally though it was, you know, let it, let it simmer.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Yeah. And I think that was a mistake. And I think, I think the , um, we certainly didn't in this country do well enough to control this epidemic. And I think the, the fact that we, that the new variant arose in the UK, there is nothing special about where new variants can arise. But the only thing that drives whether or not you're going to get a new variant in one place or another is how much more disease you've got in one place or another, you know, the likelihood of getting a new variant appearing in a place is solely related to the number of infections. So if we'd managed to bring our infections lower during the summer and September, if we'd got an effective test track and trace that actually worked properly, if we , um, uh, being a little bit more cautious about opening up some of the hospitality venues and encouraging people to go on , um, uh, to go to restaurants during August on particular days, because that's when you've got the half price meal. And that's when it was really busy , um, that , um, you know, we might not have actually had enough cases around to have actually kick-started the English barrier , but then of course the , you know, there's the South African variants . So, you know, it wouldn't necessarily

Speaker 2:

Very , very quickly. Just two more questions. One is, you said the English variant look, I was looking at the center for strategic risks in America. Um, and there, there are a lot of former defense officials and people who have died who have dealt with the risk of biological warfare. And I have a lot of respect for them, but they talked about the genome sequencing sequencing that takes place in the United Kingdom. Um, and that there really isn't anything comparable to in other places and that the us should have it, but that the number that they use in the United States 0.3% of cases have been sequenced in the United Kingdom. It's about five, 10% roughly , right ? Yes . The us is ranked 43 in the world, by the way, which I think is shocking. So look that may tell us, yeah, the UK is better at sequencing. Doesn't it also tell us that this variant, while it's really been identified in the United Kingdom and people are sealing their borders to the UK, it is probably much more widespread than we realize .

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it is now. But I think, I think the balance of evidence is it probably started initially in the Southeast of England, maybe Kent, but, you know, we can't say that for certain, you know , one of the things, as I'm sure you know about Kent is that it's sort of quite close to the channel tunnel. And so, you know, a lot of them ,

Speaker 2:

All the truck drivers passing through and stuff ,

Speaker 1:

Well , you can't exclude that, but it did, you know , um, but , uh, it, it certainly is spreading more widely. Um, it , it's now in the States, it's now in Canada, it's in Australia and it's , uh , it pretty in print , I think most European countries where they've actually looked for it.

Speaker 2:

Do you, in your initial reaction, which you described as feeling physically ill when you saw the increasing our rates , um, and realize this new VR variant , uh, had taken off, do you believe that , um, we are battling the clock in that this variant, it is just a matter of time because we're seeing mutations in the spike protein, which it attaches the vaccines attach onto . If we don't roll out vaccines effectively, if this is not handled quickly and the lid put back on all of this, that the virus is simply going to outpace and I'm smart than you vaccines,

Speaker 1:

You're quite right. I mean, at the moment, there is no evidence that it's made a big change to the ability of the vaccine to protect against that strain . The big problem though, is that we do, we S um, uh, I I've been saying this for some time and probably one of the few people in the UK that is actually , uh , quoted as saying this for some time . But , um, I was gratified to know that the chief scientist of the world health organization two days ago said exactly the same thing. We do not know whether any of the current vaccines actually stop infection. So , um, it is certainly plausible that the vaccines and I think the , um, there is , uh, I think the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine have actually looked at this and the thought does it didn't actually make that much difference to whether somebody an infection or not. But what it does is stop people or reduce the chances of people developing things symptomatic

Speaker 2:

Right now . No , I'm alarmed now I'm alone, because what you're telling me is if it doesn't stop infection yeah , lets you continue on. But that means all of the social distancing, all of the mask wearing all of that is going to have to continue because this vaccine will continue to circulate and continue to mutate and develop. And eventually

Speaker 1:

It's quite plausible. Yeah. And it may well be the case that although at the moment that the spike proteins is still , uh , uh, uh, close enough for the vaccine to work , um, at some point, presumably it's quite possible that we will get some nutation that is , uh, that's the called escape mutants that , that no longer is controlled by the vaccine, but it shouldn't be that we weren't have to go through the huge process that we've had to this year to, to modify the vaccines for any new mutation. But the issue is in people who don't have vaccine, if it does, if these vaccines don't stop transmission, although they'll almost certainly reduce the probability of transmission, even if they don't stop, stop it, but if they don't stop it, then any concept of herd immunity from vaccination, just evaporates, you know, and , um, so that people who elect not to be vaccinated for whatever reason or can't because of preexisting disease or whatever , um, they're still very much at risk of getting the infection of getting severe disease and , and, and dying depending on other risk factors and their age and so on. So yeah, it is. And, and I think with this , um, more infectious , um, variant that becomes even more difficult for people who don't have the vaccine, they're even more at risk of continuing to be getting the infection . So I think to be honest, I can't, you know, I , well , I've been saying for months that, you know , I can see my grandchildren's grandchildren, well , I won't be around then , but you know, I, I strongly suspect that my grandchildren's grandchildren will still be getting infections with COVID-19, but they almost certainly will not be dying by then. And almost certainly the disease that we S that they would experience, won't be that much different from the common cold. And that is, and I'm saying that because we know that's happened at least twice in the past, where a very similar to virus virus to COVID-19 has got into human society probably was responsible for large of deaths for the few years. And then after that, it just sort of, we came to a , um, um, uh , a, a situation where it was just the common cold bond ,

Speaker 2:

But you're saying there's still some very difficult years potentially ahead of us, even though the UK health minister was on television this morning, saying this is all going to be over in the spring. I mean, he is that's, I think that is in the extreme.

Speaker 1:

I think that is overly optimistic personally. I, it, I think the things will be a lot better by the spring. Don't get me wrong, you know, by the time we're into the spring and people who , um , are wanting are accepting of the vaccine of the vaccine that is going to make a huge difference. And I can't see next summer being anywhere near as difficult as this last year. And I, you know , um , uh , the , um, I quite personally, I totally expecting to be able to travel and go to meetings , um, come next summer and September again.

Speaker 2:

You're right. I hope you're right. And I , uh, I'm watching president elect Biden criticize the Trump rollout of the vaccine because this is a race against time saying the way it's going. It will take years not months. The UK government seems poised and they have promised a speedy, efficient rollout , but they have bungled everything , uh, up until now. So

Speaker 1:

White

Speaker 2:

Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the Norwich school of medicine, university of East Anglia. Great to talk to you, Paul. Thank you so much. Bye pleasure.

Speaker 3:

That's our backstory, the last edition of 2020. We wish you, well, please subscribe to backstory. I've now launched a new newsletter to help you digest and navigate the daily news, because I think a lot of people and people tell me they don't know how to read daily news and watch television and figure out what's true. And what's disinformation. Check it out. Dana Lewis's backstory newsletter on sub stock . I'll try to explain news and give you an idea how I source it. And I'll even put the links there in 2021. I'll continue to bring you weekly podcasts focusing on international news. Here's what the astrologers say about 2020. It was a cataclysmic aligning of planets that ends in the new year. Thank goodness. And 2021 ushers in the age of Aquarius, what changes are astrologists predicting in 2021? If this year saw our regular ways of life up ended, then next year is tipped to offer technological advancements and the mending of communities they say on December the 21st, 20, 20 Jupiter and Saturn met in Aquarius. And they'll remain in this sign for the majority of year. Aquarius is a sign associated with abrupt change, forming communities fighting for causes that you care about and making technological advances. Anyway, that's what a stroller you're saying. And I think I'll take any good news at this point. Thanks for listening to backstory on Dana Lewis and London. And I'll talk to you again soon. On the other side in 2021,

Speaker 5:

[inaudible] .