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Covid, Brexit and the US election… and how they affect you


Dr Liz Breen is an expert in Supply Chain Management and a Reader in the School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences in the Faculty of Life Sciences

Why it will be 2022 before we’re over the worst, why we could waste a billion vaccines and how 'responsible AI' could create better leaders

The confluence of Covid, Brexit and the looming US election represent one of the greatest challenges of our time. Here, three experts from the University of Bradford analyse how each might play out and how they will likely affect us in the future.

Paul Rogers is Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and an Honorary Fellow of the Joint Service Command and Staff College (part of the UK Defence Academy). While he may have retired from full time teaching a decade ago, the 77-year-old is still very much in demand. Indeed, he recently gave evidence to two Parliamentary Select committees, the House of Lords Select Committee on Covid-19 and the Joint Select Committee on the National Security Strategy. He says the UK acted too slowly to the threat of the pandemic and while the promise of a vaccine holds out hope, it will likely be the spring of 2022 before we’re really over the worst.

Covid: why it will be June 2022 before we’re over the worst

Neither the Europeans nor the British took what was happening in the Far East seriously. Places like Hong Kong and Taiwan were checking people from Wuhan as early as January 1. This was reported in New Scientist as early as January 7.

The World Economic Forum previously rated both the US and UK among the best prepared for a global pandemic but in the end, they ended up being among the worst. Britain was slow to act. Part of that was because the Government had just won an election, there was a sense of euphoria and partly it was due to Brexit. We never really got to grips with it and as a result the response has been chaotic and consistently a matter of ‘too little, too late’.

At the end of the first lockdown, which probably needed to be extended a couple of weeks, there was still too much of a reservoir of the virus among young people, who weren't necessarily displaying symptoms. As soon as lockdown was eased, the virus came right back, as it also did across Europe. Now the Czech Republic is losing control, even Germany fears it is on the brink and some would say the US already has lost control.

The good news is that vaccines really are being developed quickly, there are already some retroviral drugs and health professionals know much more of how to treat it, so fewer people are dying. There has never been such a concerted effort put into vaccine research. The first vaccines could come by the end of December and by the middle of next year should be readily available. However, even if we get a vaccine by May or June, it will still take another year to knock it right back. My view is we won’t fully be out of this until the spring of 2022.

The one thing we did need was a good test and trace facility but that has proved to be hopelessly ineffective. The other problem for the Government is getting people to play ball. When we hear of MPs drinking in the House of Commons bar after 10pm and government advisors travelling across the country when they shouldn’t, people will ask: if they can do it, why can’t I?

Brexit and the US election: why Boris Johnson is playing a waiting game

If Trump wins, the UK will probably go ahead with a really hard Brexit. If Trump loses, Boris Johnson is going to have to cut a deal with the EU, who will then play hardball. He knows this, the EU knows this. So, he will wait until after the US election to decide. This will be brought into even sharper focus if the democrats also take control of the US Senate, because it is that which rules on trade deals.

Dr Liz Breen is an expert in Supply Chain Management and a Reader in the School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences in the Faculty of Life Sciences. Her name hit the headlines in May after rightly predicting a wave of so-called ‘post-lockdown revenge buying’. She also highlighted the significance of medicines shortages in Time Magazine during the run up to Brexit and recently submitted evidence on the impact of medicines shortages to an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting. Here, she explains why finding a vaccine is just the start of the challenge.

Covid vaccines: why we could end up wasting a billion vaccines

The race for a Covid 19 vaccine is only the start, the next step is lining up the production lines and the logistics. Are we ready for mass immunisation when the vaccine is available? Do we have enough suppliers for mass manufacturing once the vaccine is ready? Recent coverage has indicated basic logistics problems such as accessing vials to put the vaccine into to store, transport and administer it. Vaccines require cold storage once manufactured, during transportation and on site prior to delivery – can this be ensured?

Up to 50 per cent of vaccines are wasted globally every year due to weakness in the cold supply chain and because of the scale of Covid, this spoilage rate could waste potentially a billion vaccines. In preparation, we should look to other perishable supply chains for best practice.

Confidence in the vaccine

There has been lots of media coverage about production and stockpiling of a vaccine but will this undermine confidence in the final product? Certain researchers say it takes 10-15 years to create and test a vaccine and we haven’t yet created a vaccine for MERS (MERS-CoV another coronavirus), despite the fact this virus was first reported in 2012.

Who will administer the vaccine? Normally GP practices or community pharmacies administer flu jabs, but a Covid vaccine can be administered by pharmacists and now pharmacy technicians, physios and paramedics. Healthcare professionals have to work hard at vaccine advocacy, to remove/reduce what is known as vaccine hesitancy to ensure people feel fully informed to take a vaccine. Parents are the main recipients of advice when making decisions for their children but the Covid vaccine will be disseminated to all age groups, which brings its own challenges.

Long Covid and preparing for the Third Wave

What will be the impact of long-covid on the delivery of healthcare? If symptoms are diverse and hence depending on severity, patients may use a variety of healthcare services: community pharmacies, GPs and hospitals. Sufferers report a huge spectrum of problems, including severe fatigue, breathlessness, muscle aches, joint pain, 'brain fog,' memory loss, a lack of concentration, as well as depression and mental health problems.

If we are entering the second wave of covid patients and the third wave is predicted to be the patients who have not accessed healthcare during lockdown and much of 2020, how do we manage all of this?

Sankar Sivarajah is Professor of Technology Management and Head of School of Management in the Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences. He is an avid researcher of use of disruptive technology (e.g. big data, artificial intelligence) and the ‘circular economy’ and was one of the youngest professors in the UK, earning his Chairship aged 33. Here, he argues weak leadership has led to social and economic division.

US election, Brexit and Covid: a case of divide and conquer

One of the main issues which binds the US election, Brexit and Covid together is leadership. Leadership is ultimately about making the right decisions through responsible management and actions. The fundamental question is not can you be a leader but can you be a responsible leader? The actions of any leader impact on society. That applies as much to people like Donald Trump as it does to us here in the UK with the way we are handling Brexit and Covid. If there are confusing messages, or messages which are not clearly defined or misleading, that ultimately creates division.

So, for example, there is no question Donald Trump is a leader, in that he has followers, or that he can lead. To give him credit, he comes from a business background and so he is keenly aware of how to market himself using things like Twitter to reach people who had previously been outside the system. However, you could argue his style of leadership has led to division. This comes from actions that lead to portrayal of irresponsible messages, for example, the moment where your leader continues with his public political campaigning driving around in a car whilst recovering from Covid and not wearing a mask. This style of leadership sends out mixed messages and creates division and when people are divided, that’s a barrier. You are essentially preventing them working together to solve problems.

As a leader, you are never going to please everyone but leadership requires a systemic view and one where you recognise the decisions you make will have an intentional or unintentional impact on others.

The flipside to creating division is to create diversity, which leads to resilience, which rather than acting as a barrier preventing people overcoming problems actually helps solve them. Creating diversity comes from responsible management. If you are running a business, you need resilience and diversity (of people, income streams and so on). If we have learned anything from the Covid crisis, it is that businesses which are resilient and diversified (e.g. having different revenue streams and capabilities) are surviving.

How big data and AI will change the political landscape

Technology has already played a big role in the US election. We have seen, for example, negative campaigning on things like facebook and twitter with the rise of fake news. What will start to come to the fore in the near future is the rise of ‘responsible AI’. Indeed, it is already happening. During the recent US presidential debates, there was a company which used AI to fact-check statements as they were made. We can envisage a situation in the future where politicians going into debates will be faced with a dashboard, linking data on things like unemployment or funding to policy pledges made by them. The hope is that unlike fake news and misinformation, which ultimately divides people, the use of responsible AI will empower people and it should also help create more responsible leaders.


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