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The light at the end of the tunnel just got a little brighter, with a second vaccine candidate proving effective in mass-testing. American pharmaceutical giant Moderna says its vaccine will protect 94.5 per cent of people, exceeding Pfizer’s results last week which showed 90 per cent effectiveness. The former’s stock price shot up by more than seven points today, while the latter’s dropped by four points.

Moderna’s vaccine would also be much easier to distribute. Unlike Pfizer’s, it doesn’t need to be stored in extreme temperatures to be effective. The temperature of a standard home or medical refrigerator – 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius – would keep it stable for around a month, allowing local GPs and pharmacies to store and administer the drug without requiring high-grade cooling equipment.

“The overall effectiveness has been remarkable, it’s a great day,” said Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, while Dr Stephen Hoge, the company’s president, said he “grinned ear to ear for a minute” when the results came in. “I don’t think any of us really hoped that the vaccine would be 94 per cent effective at preventing Covid-19 disease, that was really a stunning realisation,” he added.

As Moderna applies for an emergency use authorisation, all thoughts turn to the one major outstanding candidate, AstraZeneca-Oxford, which is due to analyse and release its results soon. The outcomes of other trials suggest the Oxford team should have positive news – and, like Moderna’s, its vaccine can be stored in ordinary temperatures.

AstraZeneca-Oxford is the cheapest of the three candidates and currently leads the way in pre-orders from foreign governments. If its results are as good as expected, it will likely become the world’s most popular Covid-19 vaccine.

Boris relaunch scuppered

It was supposed to be the week that Boris Johnson relaunched his government, following the Cummings-Cain psychodrama of the last few days, but the Prime Minister’s plans were disturbed by the news that he had come into contact with an MP who had tested positive for coronavirus, meaning he’d have to self-isolate for fourteen days.

“The good news is that the NHS test and trace continues to improve. The bad news is that I’ve been pinged,” Johnson texted MPs last night. “It doesn’t matter that I feel fine – better than ever – or that my body is bursting with antibodies from the last time I had it. The rules are the rules and they are there to stop the spread of the disease.”

He added, of the potential impact on the functioning of government: “Yes we have the spending review and the integrated security review and the small matter of EU talks. But we also have zoom and other miracles.”

Johnson will go ahead with his new Green announcements – an effort to move away from Brexit and other “culture war” issues and to prepare the ground for this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, which Britain is hosting. They are expected to include a ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2030, as well as pledges on increased use of offshore wind and technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide.

To substitute the loss of fuel duty revenues, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is said to be “very interested” in the idea of a national road pricing scheme, using tracking devices already built into electric vehicles to charge people on the basis of how long they drive. As The Hound writes today: Old Boris, the motoring columnist, would most likely have been appalled by such a policy.

Jupiter’s phone rant

President Emmanuel Macron has never granted the New York Times’ Paris bureau an interview, but last Thursday he did call Ben Smith, the paper’s media columnist, to bash the “Anglo-American” media’s coverage of recent terrorist attacks in France.

“When I see… several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values… legitimising this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamaphobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost,” Macron said.

Smith was horrified: “Legitimising violence – that’s as serious a charge as you can make against the media, and the sort of thing we’ve been more used to hearing, and shrugging off, from the American president … I asked him whether his vocal complaints about the American Media weren’t themselves a little Trumpian – advancing his own agenda through high-profile attacks on the press.”

Macron is of course right to be angry at the American media’s attitude to European affairs – as we in Britain know all too well, the New York Times’ coverage of the continent can be haughty and sometimes wrong. At the same time, Smith rightly identifies Macron’s Trumpian characteristics; he is prone to narcissism and sees critical analysis of French secularism as an insult in itself.

With Trump out of the way and nothing to distract them from their own shortcomings, let us enjoy the sight of these two “defenders of the liberal international order” turning on each other.

Mutaz Ahmed
Political Reporter