The Pandemic Disaster That Might Not Matter

The Pandemic Disaster That Might Not Matter

Britain’s COVID-19 death toll has risen above 100,000. But, if it is successful, the country’s vaccine drive may leave a more lasting memory.

Britain has passed the grimmest of milestones: 100,000 people dead from COVID-19. This appalling tally is higher than anywhere else in Europe, and almost twice that of Germany, the biggest country on the continent. By one measure, Britain is now the worst-hit G-7 nation relative to its size.

There is simply no escaping the reality that the country has suffered a catastrophic failure of governance. On March 17, six days before Boris Johnson ordered Britain’s first full national lockdown, his chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, told members of Parliament that, based on modeling provided to the government, a “good” outcome over the course of the pandemic would be if deaths were kept below 20,000.

And yet, Britain has also shown wisdom. Although its vaccination program remains in its early stages, it has raced ahead of every other country in Europe, having bought more doses, sanctioned their use more quickly, and begun their rollout with more urgency. Even as Britain’s death tally eclipses 100,000, more than 6.5 million vaccinations have been administered, far more than Germany or France. This has been helped by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, the most cost-effective and easiest to use of the inoculations approved so far, which was developed in Britain in part because of early and heavy government backing. If the country’s record in saving lives has been one of abject failure, its vaccination record is anything but.