The Value of Values

Like so many of you, I woke up this time last week to the wonderful news from Oxford University and AstraZeneca that the results from their Phase 3 vaccine trials were positive: efficacy of up to 90%, with few side effects, able to be kept at fridge temperature, and available for 10% of the cost of other options. Not only has the speed with which Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have worked been unprecedented – a process which would normally take 10 years has been achieved in 10 months – but AstraZeneca also declared a no-profit pledge earlier in the year meaning that each vaccine will be available during the pandemic for as little as $3 per dose. It is a remarkable and inspiring story of human endeavour, ingenuity and purpose. It also gives genuine hope that there might be some light at the end of the particular tunnel in which we all find ourselves currently.

As Peter Frankopan pointed out in an article in the Evening Standard a few weeks ago, however, even if the infrastructure was in place to vaccinate 1 million people a week, it would still take more than a year to cover the population of the United Kingdom. There will also be many – although not me, I must admit – who will be nervous about putting themselves at the front of the vaccine queue, and others will refuse the vaccine altogether.

No matter how optimistic I am as I write this piece, I must balance this with a heavy dose of realism as the race to put in place the organisational framework to roll out mass vaccination begins in earnest. We hear that the first vaccinations could be delivered to front-line health workers before Christmas, with the elderly and the vulnerable next in line in the new year, and with Easter representing the earliest best guess as to when we might return to some semblance of previous normality.

What strikes me most strongly about the work of Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been their insistence, from the very beginning of this crisis, that they will not seek to profiteer from the pandemic. Big Pharma has not always enjoyed a spotless reputation in the past, particularly around pricing, but the pandemic has provided the major pharmaceutical companies with an opportunity to change people’s minds, as Sarah Neville and Hannah Kuchlar pointed out in an article in Friday’s Financial Times.

For me, however, the past few weeks, as much as anything else, highlights the importance of values, both personally and organisationally. The values that we hold dear at Wellington – Courage, Kindness, Integrity, Respect, Responsibility – are far more than mere abstract notions. To me they are the key to a life well lived – and must form the basis of all our actions. We can see them every day in what we do or fail to do: they are as conspicuous by their absence as by their presence. At the start of this term the College Prefects were keen to add one more value to our list of five, and that was the value of Gratitude.

The scientists and the pharmaceutical companies seem to have lived those values over the past 10 months, and their ground-breaking research has given us all a sense of light at the end of the tunnel. In line with the College Prefects wishes it is entirely appropriate to offer them our heartfelt thanks.

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