AAs the UK undergoes another lockdown and watches the coronavirus death toll exceed 100,000, one source of optimism has been the effectiveness of the national vaccine program, the fastest deployment of its kind in the world.
Now, in addition to the effectiveness of the NHS and the work of former vaccine task force Kate Bingham, a surprising factor in that success has come to the fore: Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s obsession with a Matt Damon movie starring by a virus-ridden pig.
In the early days of the crisis, Sky News reported, the health secretary constantly reminded advisers of the example of Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film that has been widely credited as a prophetic examination of how a global pandemic might unfold. In particular, Hancock wanted his team to pay attention to the film’s depiction of the intricacies of an international race for limited vaccine supplies and to make sure Britain was in the forefront.
“He was constantly referring to the end of the movie,” a former adviser to the Department of Health and Welfare told Sky. “He was always very aware from the beginning, first that the vaccine was really important, second that when a vaccine was developed, we would see a worldwide fight for this.”
Hancock was particularly impressed by a scene in which a lottery based on dates of birth is used to ration the supply, not as a policy prescription, but as an indication of how valuable the vaccine would be.
“To be clear, he didn’t think there was going to be this competition just because he had seen Contagion,” a source patiently told The Guardian. “The vaccine effort in the UK was not based in any way on the epidemiological model of watching a movie; was an illustrative example. He would say, ‘We’ve all seen Contagion, right?’ It was useful. “
“Much of the focus was the need to inject a dose of reality and realpolitik into it,” added the source. “It’s not just about the science of how to develop it, there is also supply and acquisitions and things that are about human nature and politics.”
Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University and chief scientific consultant on Contagion, said it was “obviously quite gratifying” when the Guardian told him of Hancock’s interest. “The idea was to try to inform people about what they needed to anticipate,” he said.
But he noted that the message behind his collaboration with screenwriter Scott Burns was not to encourage so-called vaccine nationalism, but to warn of its dangers.
“We have to vaccinate everyone, there is absolutely no question about it,” he said. “As long as there is a population that has not been vaccinated, there is a high probability that this will continue to evolve. So people who don’t understand or appreciate that, it’s not only unethical, it’s not in their own interest either. “
Hancock is far from the first to notice the disturbing example featured in Contagion, which remains surprisingly appropriate amid concerns over the distribution of the vaccine in the developing world. At one point, a news anchor says in off: “As laboratories work around the clock to produce the life-saving formula, the question remains: who gets it first?
The biggest risk to the UK’s vaccine supply now appears to come from the EU, which has struggled to secure supplies and briefly sought to trigger a Brexit clause to place controls on the export of vaccines to Northern Ireland last week. before reversing course. But Hancock’s main concern was the possible threat from across the Atlantic, and a president whose demeanor was definitely unpredictable.
“He often warns that we have to have our own supply chains,” the source said. “A lot of the stuff about the increased safety of vaccines and supply chains in the UK was due to a slight nervousness about what Donald Trump might do.”
Despite his warning about vaccine nationalism, Lipkin said he was relieved that Contagion has become a touchstone for explaining the crisis rather than some of its predecessors. “We made the movie this way because, you know, virus movies are about carnivorous zombies and so forth,” he said.
In fact, the news of Hancock’s landmark may bring some relief that you haven’t seen Dustin Hoffman’s 1995 film Outbreak.
In that film, a mother recognizes an infected monkey, played by Marcel from Friends, after seeing a photograph and comparing it with a drawing of her son, who has become friends with the animal. The boy finally convinces the monkey so that Cuba Gooding Jr can shoot him with a tranquilizer dart. That allows Hoffman to use his blood in an “antiserum” transfusion for his ailing ex-wife after evading a crazed general in a helicopter chase.
As of yet, there is no evidence that Hancock encouraged his advisers to shoot any animals. “We tried to base our movie on the best science we could find,” Rudkin said. “In Outbreak they don’t even understand the monkey well.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism