Do you remember the bit near the end of the 2011 pandemic disaster film Contagion, where scientists develop a vaccine but then award vaccinations via a lottery based on birthdates?
Well, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock does, because he says that scene influenced his planning for the country’s COVID vaccine rollout. Really.
Hancock, who last year reportedly overruled official advice to order 100 million vaccine doses rather than the recommended 30 million, told radio station LBC: “In the film, it shows the moment of highest stress around the vaccine programme is not in fact before it’s rolled out, when actually it’s the scientists and the manufacturers working together at pace. It’s afterwards, when there is a huge row about the order of priority. So not only did we in this country, I insisted, we ordered enough for everybody, every adult to have their two doses.”
He added: “But also we asked for that clinical advice on the prioritisation very early, and set it out in public – I think, for the first time, we set it out in August or September, so that there was no big row about the order of priority. But instead we asked the clinicians, and we do it on the basis of how we save the most lives the most quickly.”
Whether you think the UK should be getting inspiration for its vaccination rollout from a ten-year-old movie starring Matt Damon is up for debate, but something must be working: more than 9.6 million people in the UK have received their first dose of the vaccine, with almost 500,000 having had both already. Only the US has vaccinated more people in total, while the only countries to have given more doses to people as a proportion of their population are Israel, the Seychelles and the UAE.
The NHS is currently vaccinating people in the following groups: care home residents and staff, people aged over 70, frontline health and social care workers, and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, excluding pregnant women and people aged under 16.
Hancock’s interest in Contagion was first reported by Sky News, which quoted an anonymous adviser as saying the health secretary “kept referring to the end of the film”.