August 07, 2020 at 06:09PM

The case for splurging on covid-19 vaccines

MORE THAN 150 covid-19 vaccines are being developed worldwide. Six are in final, large-scale clinical trials. Governments have invested $10bn in them and are reckoned to have made forward purchases of about 4bn doses. Effectiveness is not assured: 20% of vaccines fail in final trials and some covid-19 vaccines rely on new technologies, raising the risk of duds. An extravagance? Far from it. The real waste, in output and lives, would be to wait for a successful vaccine before boosting production. Even $100bn would pale next to the $7trn governments have spent or pledged on supporting incomes and jobs. The huge investment required raises fears of “vaccine nationalism”, with rich countries outspending the poor and hoarding supplies. It is easy to imagine countries squabbling, with poor countries likely to lose out, despite international efforts to promote fairer distribution. Maximising supplies quickly and spreading manufacturing capacity around the world would help minimise the scramble.

Several countries that appeared to be dealing successfully with the coronavirus now look less assured. All but one of Australia’s states and territories have imposed internal border controls, which are being tested in the courts. The exception, Victoria, which has the vast majority of cases, is in lockdown. In Africa the number of reported cases is nearing 1m. More than half of those are in South Africa, but it is unlikely that other countries have been spared. The low count elsewhere probably reflects a lack of data; testing is sparse. Cases seem to be rising fast as countries loosen lockdowns, including places that seemed to have the virus under control. In the Balkans few cases were reported early in the pandemic. Now, of the ten European countries with the fastest-rising infection rates, eight are in the region. In Scotland, the nationalist government’s handling of the pandemic has boosted the cause of independence. In fact, Scotland’s excess-mortality rate is high—albeit lower than England’s.

The pandemic has been disruptive for students, interrupting their studies, pushing tuition online and squashing the fun out of college life. For universities it has been disastrous. Many, especially in America, Australia, Britain and Canada, have become highly dependent on fees from foreign students, whose numbers are sure to tumble. And because campuses are ideal breeding grounds for covid-19, anti-viral precautions are sure to last. Troubles were brewing anyway. Relations between the West and China, a source of many students, are souring. Governments fretting about productivity wonder whether universities are turning out too many graduates in the wrong subjects. And some students may be better off not going to university at all. Yet covid-19, though a catastrophe, should spur improvement, not least through wider use of digital technology. Good online lectures are better than poor in-person ones, and could free resources for more teaching in smaller groups.

Corporate America’s strange second-quarter earnings season is almost over. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll: energy companies’ revenues slumped by half, year on year, and those of durable-goods firms slid by a third. Yet the S&P 500 index is near a record high and the Nasdaq reached one this week. That’s partly because interest rates are close to nil and partly because the five biggest tech firms, which make up 22% of the S&P, had a bumper quarter. Some tech companies are flush enough to be eyeing takeover targets. Nvidia, a semiconductor-maker, is reportedly considering a bid for Arm, a British chip designer owned by Japan’s SoftBank. And Microsoft hopes to snaffle the American (and Australian, Canadian and New Zealand) operations of TikTok, a Chinese-owned short-video app. Donald Trump’s offensive against Chinese technology companies has forced TikTok’s owner into a fire sale.

Coming out is easier than ever before. Not every lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person wants to. But most do, and for many it is still the central event of their lives. It is easier, and happening at earlier ages. That is partly due to the wider—though still far from universal—acceptance of homosexualty. But it also owes a lot to the internet. Before coming out to others, LGBT people have to come out to themselves; and youngsters who wonder about their sexuality can quickly learn a lot online. The internet is especially helpful in places that are less gay-friendly: we report this week from Colombia and Kenya. And as more people come out, tolerance will spread. Sceptics and bigots are likeliest to change their minds when they learn that someone they know is gay.


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