There is much to be optimistic about in 2021 but vaccines and testing must become part of the ‘new normal’, was the general sentiment at Big Tent Digital panel: “Road to Recovery? Testing, Vaccines and Mental Health”, last night (9th December 2020).


Moderated by Baroness Sally Morgan, Master of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge, Chair Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust, the session touched upon the track and test roll-out challenges, the UK’s outlook with the Pfizer vaccine and how mental health has been affected over the past year.


Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Chair of the Health Select Committee, started by commending the speed at which the vaccine was approved in the UK:


“I do think the optimism people feel this week is justified. This is not a false alarm. The arrival of a vaccines means we can start to plan for a life going back to normal after Easter. This is a big British victory too. The process of approving it is incredibly difficult, and we have been extremely innovative.”


Jono O’Halloran, CEO, QuantuMDx discussed the crucial roll-out of testing to get the UK and the international community out of the pandemic and address the failings that we have seen:


We were not prepared for it. What you need is decentralised testing that is highly sensitive in the local area, so that the local authorities can deal with their people, rather than what we have now: a centralised system which hampers and hinders progress.”


O’Halloran made the point that testing will be the ‘new normal’ despite the vaccine news:


“We need to keep on testing people who have been vaccinated to monitor the success of it. Assuming it offers 90% protection, we don’t know who the other 10% are and we will need tests to find that out. We’re going to have to test all the different demographics carefully so we can see what groups are more or less likely to build up an immune response. It has to monitor for efficacy and be there for identification of when protection runs out – the vaccine might not last forever. Testing is going to be around for years to come.”


Hunt agreed, that a strategic testing strategy was key:


“We have to have a Plan B, so it’s very important we continue the road of mass testing. We’ve got too hung up on the issue of false negatives. With a mess testing regime you’re reducing risk, and the more widely available it is, the more you can reduce risk. Having been so much pain in the last nine or ten months, we cannot throw it all away by putting too much faith in the vaccine. We don’t yet know if the vaccines will stop transmission.”


When pressed on anti-vaxxers, Hunt went on to say:


The vaccine is safe. I have absolute confidence in it. Of course the government need to counter the propaganda from the anti-vaxxers, but most people are so desperate to get back to normal life and have been waiting for this moment. I think we won’t have a significant issue with public scare stories.”


O’Halloran concurred:


“This is a RNA vaccine and is about as safe as it gets.”


Baroness Morgan asked the two to conclude with what they are optimistic next year.


Hunt answered:


“I’m optimistic we’ll bounce back faster than most people think – there’s incredible resilience in the economy.” O’Halloran added that he was optimistic about the future of the life sciences in the UK.

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