How Will the Fiction be Sustained?

9 December 2020  /  Updated 7 March 2021

by David Mackie

Wedded as it now is to the idea of the vaccine as the ‘solution’ to the coronavirus crisis, the Government will continue to exert all the pressure that it can on the population, through the media and other channels, to downplay any public concerns about the reliability or the safety of the vaccine(s). We already know the form that this pressure will, for the most part, take: it will consist largely of the kind of pro-vaccine propaganda masquerading either as news stories or as ‘myth-busting’ public information broadcasts that we are already seeing.

Mere pro-vaccine propaganda, however, will clearly not suffice on its own: not if the numbers of ‘Covid cases’ reported and ‘COVID-19 deaths’ fail to decline in line with public expectations. Yet it must be obvious to sceptics of my kind that, if testing continues at current or increased levels, there is no reason at all to think that the numbers of positive tests or COVID-19-related deaths will decline. If testing is as unreliable as we believe it is, persuaded as we are by the scientific analyses by Dr Clare Craig, Dr Mike Yeadon, and others, then continued mass testing of the asymptomatic must inevitably continue to produce thousands upon thousands of positive tests and deaths attributed to COVID-19. As Mike Yeadon has said, if the testing continues, then, given the false positives, the appearance of a lethal epidemic can never end.

Sceptics of my kind, of course, believe for these reasons that the mass vaccination programme is in reality just one more gigantic coronvirus-related waste of public money among countless others: it can serve no genuine, scientifically legitimate, purpose in bringing the epidemic to an end, or in justifying an end to lockdown-style restrictions. This is because its explicit aim is to bring about a result – ‘herd immunity’ – that has already been substantially achieved by entirely natural processes to which all deliberate interventions have been essentially irrelevant.

Mass vaccination serves ends, then, that are exclusively political as opposed to scientific/epidemiological: it is the Government’s chosen political way out of the crisis and the cycle of lockdown measures. The aim must be to represent – however dishonestly – the arrival of the vaccines as the supposed new factual development – the ‘game-changer’ – that enables the Government to be seen as liberating the population, without the appearance of moral irresponsibility regarding public health, and (crucially) without being forced to admit that all of the public’s previous sacrifices – all the economic and social damage of lockdown, all the unnecessary deaths and long-term damage to public health, and all the grotesque infringement of basic liberties – were as a matter of fact pointless.  

But even if the public swallow (rightly or wrongly) the propaganda about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, the political message would clearly be threatened if the ‘cases’ and ‘deaths’ refused to fall into line, and remained obstinately unchanged.  
 
An interesting political question is therefore how the pretence will now be maintained that the vaccines are to be credited for the changes that will eventually liberate us. This is of course a political, not a scientific issue – but it will surely have to be a matter of managing the ‘scientific’ figures so as to ensure that an illusion of the desired outcome is created. How will they manage it?

I am no spin doctor, and others, in Downing Street or elsewhere, may have more ingenious plans. But any or all of the following look like the kind of strategies to which the Government must surely now resort. We should all be keeping a watchful eye open for their emergence:

  • A subtle but sustained reduction in the scale of testing – perhaps to be justified to the public, if it cannot be simply concealed, by the assertion that the existence of the vaccines means that the policy of ever-increasing mass testing, and the ‘moonshot’ programme, are no longer required.  
  • The planting of increasing numbers of stories in the media casting doubt on the reliability of the tests. Admittedly, this would run contrary to the infuriatingly stubborn attitude previously adopted to challenges from sceptics as to the reliability of tests. But everything might change, now that it has become expedient for the Government to question the tests’ reliability. Conceivably, we have already seen the beginning of this strategy in the form of recent mass media news items questioning the reliability of the lateral flow antigen test in particular. 
  • Changes in the criteria applied for declaration of a positive test, and/or for a COVID-19-related death. It would arguably be relatively cost-free for the Government to announce, for example, that ‘new’ scientific evidence had suggested that tests should only be regarded as positive if they revealed a higher viral load than those currently regarded as positive. And it would be easy to disguise such subterfuge, bamboozling the public and discouraging much in-depth public criticism, by means of technical talk concerning the numbers of cycles used in PCR testing.
  • Perhaps most likely, I suspect that we shall see a simple shift in the emphasis in reporting, in which one set of numbers gradually replaces another: I think we can probably expect daily reports of the numbers of cases and deaths to be steadily supplanted by enthusiastic and uplifting reports of the numbers of vaccinations successfully performed.
  • Domination of the media, to the exclusion of all data, reliable or not, by uplifting stories of positive experiences of vaccination.  

Such measures need not be instituted at once, of course: a certain delay between the start of mass vaccination and the appearance of any effect can – indeed must – be permitted, which will be attributed to the 28 or so days required for ‘full immunity’ from vaccination to be achieved.  

But sooner or later, if the vaccines are to be perceived as doing their job, the appearance of a decline in the numbers of positive deaths and of ‘COVID-19-related’ deaths will have to be created. It will be interesting to see how the Government plays its hand.

David Mackie is Head of Philosophy at d’Overbroeck’s, Oxford