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After a morning spent painting flowers at a primary school in his Uxbridge constituency, Britain’s prize clot returned to Downing Street to lead a press conference on clots. Blood clots to be precise.
Following the decision of some countries to suspend their Oxford AstraZeneca vaccination programmes over concerns of blood clot side-effects, Boris Johnson was happy to report that the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency had declared the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to be absolutely safe.
What’s more, he added, even the European Medicines Agency had found the vaccine safe. And if the EU countries that still couldn’t forgive us either for Brexit or a more successful immunisation rollout had said the UK’s vaccine was safe, then it really must be OK. Because if there was any chance of rubbishing our vaccine, the EMA would have been the first to do so. In fact the jab was so safe, Boris continued, he was booked in to have his on Friday.
It will be a great chance for the prime minister to find out from NHS staff firsthand just how excited they are with their 1% pay rise. The nursing team at his vaccination centre will be drawing lots not to end up as the person administering the injection for the inevitable photo op.
Johnson then handed over to June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, who went into more detail about the vaccine’s safety. There was no greater incidence of development of blood clots in those who had had the jab than in those who hadn’t. Nor had they established any causal link between Oxford/AstraZeneca and the five people who had got a rare blood clot on the brain. She sounded thoroughly fed up having her day interrupted to explain basic probability theory to an ungrateful audience.
As did Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, who pointed out that even everyday drugs, such as aspirin, came with a whole load of warnings about possible side effects – up to and including death – and nobody thought twice about taking those. So quit moaning and just get the jab when you’re offered it. The more people who have the vaccination the safer everyone will be.
Next up, Johnson was keen to reassure everyone that there would be enough supplies of the vaccine for everyone to get their jabs in line with the roadmap the government had published the previous month.
He couldn’t understand why so many people had panicked after Matt Hancock had been unable to explain the contents of a leaked letter which suggested significant delays in the deployment. After all it was quite normal for the health secretary not to know what was going on.
It was like this: there might not be so many doses in April as in March but there would still be more than in February. Everyone who had been promised an appointment would get their jabs on time.
Things became rather more interesting when the prime minister was asked about the home secretary’s plan to offload incoming immigrants to Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Morocco, and Denmark.
Johnson hummed and hawed. It was right to grant an effective amnesty to those who had been in the country for a long period of time because they knew the score, but it was the humane thing to do from now on to kick out anyone who had just arrived here “illegally” by boat. The thing was, these people were being trafficked here under false pretences – they thought they were going to be welcomed, but the reality was they weren’t wanted, and they would never be able to get any work other than on zero hours contracts.
So it was far better to kick them out immediately to spare them the reality of a life in Britain. And no, he hadn’t got round to asking Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Morocco or Denmark if they actually wanted to take our cast-offs. But he had been looking at some old travel brochures and they all sounded like nice, accommodating, places where these people would have a far better standard of living than in the UK.
After that, the press conference lapsed into its meta iteration. A briefing about a briefing that didn’t tell anyone anything they didn’t know already.
Johnson ducked a question on whether Nicola Sturgeon should resign if she was found to have broken the ministerial code. There was no point highlighting the fact that he had repeatedly declined to sack his own ministers who had broken the code.
But he did agree that it would be right to commemorate all those who had died in the pandemic. After all it was he and his government who could be held accountable for so many of the deaths in the first place, so it was the least he could do.