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Why does Trump escape the wrath of vaccine sceptics?

The big story dominating the internet’s apparently endless vaccine wars, this week, is the “admission” by Pfizer that their MRNA covid-19 vaccine was never formally tested to see whether it interrupted transmission.

It often feels to me as if Vaccine-sceptics live in a status of immense frustration, where everyone they know online seems to realise what a massive story something like this is, while the rest of the world either ignores it, or covers it up, or doesn’t appear to care. “Why aren’t there massive protests?” one person asked, online, yesterday. The reason for that, unfortunately for the sceptics, is that many people consider this something of a non-story. Your correspondent is in that camp.

To explain why that is – to my eyes – a non-story, let’s pose this question: Suppose you, a vaccinated person, are locked in a room with someone who has Covid-19. You do not catch the virus.

In that scenario, has the vaccine prevented infection? Or has it prevented transmission? Or are those two things functionally indistinguishable? If it is true – for the sake of argument – that the vaccines reduce your chance of infection, then they de facto, as a matter of certainty, reduce transmission. You don’t need a separate testing regimen to uncover that, because every infection eliminated is also a transmission prevented.

One might argue that the total testing of the vaccines was curtailed, and that this was wrong – those points are true and worthy of argument, respectively. But it’s hard to envisage a scenario where the kind of testing that’s at the heart of this “scandal” would ever have been conducted.

But when you put that to people, they tend to immediately flip the script: “But John, the vaccine didn’t work as advertised; and all the politicians said it did we were lied to; and this is more evidence”. The first part is true, as is the second, but the third is not. And also, I’d remind you, nobody in the Irish media wrote more pieces about why the vaccine mandate was a terrible idea than yours truly. Politicians being wrong then is not an excuse for their opponents to be wrong today.

If you are testing whether a vaccine prevents transmission, you do that by testing whether it prevents infection. If it does one, it has de facto done the other. It would not be necessary or normal to run a separate testing protocol. This, I’m afraid, is just outrage-bait. A device to draw clicks. This piece, for example, would get many more shares and reads than it likely will if your correspondent was willing to go down the road of this is a disgrace, Joe, so it is.

That’s the nature of news, and the internet. People share what they want to hear. Tucker Carlson wouldn’t get tens of thousands of likes and views for his videos about vaccines if he took up nuance, rather than absolute moral clarity. Be the “brave” man or woman willing to talk about the “killer jab”, and you will profit from it, handsomely. And you can still portray yourself, as the cash rolls in, as fighting the globalist establishment. It’s a pretty good deal, if you can sleep at night.

The right’s new media, especially in the USA, where it is now a billion-dollar industry, has all the same perverse incentives as the mainstream media does. The latter gets a wedge of state advertising every time it hypes the dangers of the pandemic. The former gets legions of people taking up substack subscriptions to read more about what the MSM “isn’t telling you about the jabs”. If you think that doesn’t tilt the tone of what you read, or lead to the sensationalising of relatively unimportant facts, think again.

But on the subject of the headline, it’s worth exploring why the testing schedule was so compressed to begin with, because, for some reason, the vaccine companies are getting all the blame for that, when in truth they deserve relatively little of it.

Nobody – and I do mean nobody – on planet earth exerted more pressure on the vaccine companies to compress their testing schedules and rush the vaccines to market, more than Donald Trump. When the vaccines did clear testing, Trump claimed that the testing had actually been dragged out longer than it needed to be, just to hurt him in the election of 2020:

In the wake of the dramatic news of a potentially effective COVID-19 vaccine, President Donald Trump posted a flurry of tweets that claimed its makers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Democrats had conspired to suppress the announcement until after the 3 November presidential election. The U.S. company involved, Pfizer, “didn’t have the courage to do it before,” Trump asserted on 9 November. And FDA and Democrats, he wrote, “didn’t want to have me get a Vaccine WIN, prior to the election, so instead it came out five days later.”

Throughout the autumn of 2020, in fact, Donald Trump exerted very public pressure on the vaccine manufacturers to compress and shorten the schedule, and pressure on the Federal Drug Administration to get the vaccine out the doors with an emergency use authorization ahead of time. Those are the facts. They are indisputable. He was not alone in this, but nobody exerted more pressure.

And yet, it is self-evident that a Venn diagram, encompassing on the one hand people who believe that rushing the vaccines was, at best, an act of negligence; and on the other hand people who believe it would be better on balance if Trump was back in charge; would be surprisingly close to a circle. Not a perfect circle, to be fair. But the overlap is huge.

But for some reason that escapes my understanding, the man most responsible for the vaccines coming to fruition as quickly as they did (remember “Operation Warp Speed”?) is also the man who escapes most of the blame, and indeed has strong support, from many of those most annoyed about what he did.

It’s a conundrum.

One of the frustrating things about Trump, from the perspective of a right-winger who openly opposes him, like me, is how the double-standard around him works: On the one hand, Trump alone, in the eyes of his supporters, was capable of mastering the so-called “deep state” and delivering wins that nobody else could have done. On the other hand, Trump was apparently constantly confounded by those same people: Ask a committed Trumpster, in the US or anywhere else, about his role in the vaccine roll-out and you’ll get an answer along the lines of “he was railroaded into it”.

Both cannot be true: You cannot argue that at once, Trump was uniquely strong, and also weak enough that vaccine manufacturers could get him to do their bidding. If you believe the second, what’s the point of Trump to begin with?

The answer, I think, is that the true point of Trump is not what he does, but who he annoys. The vaccine sceptic who hates the big vaccine manufacturers instinctively knows that the kind of citizen-of-the-world globalist who occupies a senior position at Pfizer fundamentally hates Trump, and therefore, Trump must have merit. That’s how we’re doing politics on the dissident right, these days: The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and that’s all there is to it. What my new friend actually does is of a lesser level of importance.

And so, that’s where we are: I do not think it healthy or good or sensible. But that’s, as they say, just my opinion, man.

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