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The Flying Pigs: While governments pulled the vaccine plug, scientists pulled out their hair

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Prof Hector Schlenk, Senior Researcher at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist, people are always asking me questions, such as ‘Can fish be British?’, ‘Does the Mars Rover need an MoT?’ and ‘Is this journey essential, sir?’.

But currently, people have mostly been asking about clots, and by this I refer to the condition less commonly known as thrombocytopenia, not just those people who refuse the vaccine on the basis that Big Tech wants to monitor them, while religiously carrying a device which is a radio transmitter, camera, microphone and GPS everywhere they go.

However, one could also use this term to refer unkindly to the governments of the various European countries who paused usage of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine due to some reports of adverse reactions.

‘Some’ is very much the operative word here, as out of 17 million people so far vaccinated, 37 have reported this reaction. Statistically, one could argue that such a figure is not worth pausing a vaccine over. But the problem with statistics is that they suddenly become a lot less persuasive when you’re about to get a needle stuck in your arm.

There are times, of course, when caution is the correct approach. When I recently mixed some baking soda with vinegar while experimenting with cake ingredients, for example. Or when I inadvertently leaned too close to the gas whilst testing a tin foil balaclava and temporarily burned off my eyebrows. But the midst of a global pandemic with vaccine take-up already hindered by conspiracy theories is probably not one of those times.

It is important to closely review any reactions, certainly, but is also important not to over-react. The incidence of blood clots in those receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine is roughly the same as the percentage of the population who are annually struck by lightning; or, perhaps most pertinently, as those who suffer from blood clots anyway.

So while various governments were pulling the plug, various scientists were pulling out their hair. Not I, but only because entropy has already taken care of this for me. However I am still rolling my eyes at governments ignoring scientific advice.

Perhaps we should expect nothing less from politicians such as Matt Hancock, who when quizzed this week on the potential of a slowdown in vaccines due to a lack of supplies, stated unhelpfully “supply is always lumpy”. Perhaps not the best choice of adjective to describe something which is delivered by hypodermic syringe.

Struan Metcalfe, MP for Aberdeenshire North and Surrounding Nether Regions

You could have knocked me down with a pheasant feather when I heard that the SNP had decided to nationalise ScotRail (or ‘Scotfail’ as I call it. Snort! Came up with that myself, you know. Very, very funny.)

The Scottish Government have been operating the service temporarily due to Covid-19 restrictions. However this week they announced that a new public body is going to be set up to run ScotRail on an ‘arm’s length’ basis. What a tremendous wheeze!

‘Arm’s length’ for the SNP of course is a somewhat shorter distance than for the rest of us, being about how far the chief executive of the party is from the first minister when he passes her the remote! So, we can look forward to train engines being re-named things like ‘John Bogie Baird’, ‘The Auchenshoogle Choo-Choo’ and ‘The Hogwash Express’!

For the last few years the service has been run by some foreign outfit called Abellio (thought that was Italian for ‘tummy’!) who have been so smashingly awful that even Glaswegians have started complaining about the trains making them late for work.

Not that I use the service very often myself; I barely get out of my silk jammies, let alone the house these days. Anyway, I tend to avoid if I can as I find that trains are often full of members of the public and the seats smell faintly of damp socks. But for those of us on Twitter, there is a rather jolly page called “ScotRail Sucks – bringing people together in hatred of ScotRail”. The tales of plebeian misfortune do make for most enjoyable bed-time reading over an 18-year-old Glenmorangie.

In his speech to Holyrood to announce the news Transport Secretary Michael ‘Mickey Blue Eyes’ Matheson won a fiver off John Swinney by saying “this approach would provide a stable platform”. Not bad, but he missed a few didn’t he?

Now there’s ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, with a chance to ‘get things back on track’. Let’s just hope the SNP’s handling of ScotRail is better than their disciplinary procedures – ‘cause that’s been a total ‘replacement bus-service’!

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